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  • 9 Nov 2020 8:15 AM | Anonymous

    The following announcement was written by the Yonkers (New York) Public Library:

    Yonkers Public Library (YPL) announces the launch of a new digital archive of local newspapers: the Yonkers News Archive. The Yonkers News Archive contains over 1.2 million pages of digitized newsprint from local newspapers ranging from the Civil War era to the late 1990s. The digitized publications include the Yonkers Examiner (1857-1863), Yonkers Gazette (1868-1893), Yonkers Statesman (1863-1932), Yonkers Herald (1891-1932), and the Herald Statesman (1932-1998).

    The archive is the result of a partnership between YPL and newspapers.com. YPL shared its extensive microfilm collection, which contains over 950 reels of microfilmed local newspapers, with Newspapers.com, a member of the Ancestry.com family. Newspapers.com then scanned and digitized the microfilm, and created an online portal for YPL visitors to keyword search the digitized newsprint. The company has already returned the microfilm reels to YPL. The only costs incurred by the library were shipping fees.

    Visitors to the Yonkers News Archive can “clip,” print, and save scanned images of newspaper articles. They can also create a free Newspapers.com account to organize and share clipped articles.

    Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano applauded the archive: “Making Yonkers’ deep and rich history accessible to the community ignites excitement and pride for our city. Congratulations to the Yonkers Public Library for this innovative and invaluable resource. Never before has so much of the city’s 19th and pre-Internet 20th Century history been so easily searchable or shareable.”

    “The Yonkers News Archive will be a great tool for anyone conducting genealogy research, studying the history of their home or neighborhood, writing the next great book about our city, or simply looking to relive memories of Yonkers past.” said YPL Director Jesse Montero.

    The full Yonkers News Archive can be accessed by visiting any of YPL’s three locations and connecting to one of its public computers or using the free wireless network onsite. More information about the Yonkers News Archive, including a video tutorial, can be found at ypl.org/yonkers-news-archive. A more limited “remote” edition of the archive, containing the Yonkers Examiner (1857-1863) and Yonkers Gazette (1868-1893), can be accessed by visiting ypl.newspapers.com.

    Patrons who are unable to visit YPL locations can get local history research assistance by emailing localhistory@ypl.org.

  • 9 Nov 2020 8:15 AM | Anonymous
    The following is an excerpt from an email message I received from Geni:

    We are excited to let you know that Geni's World Family Tree now connects over 150 million profiles!

    This huge milestone was possible thanks to the collaboration of over 13 million users and over 200 volunteer Curators from all over the world. The World Family Tree has grown faster than ever with over 11 million profiles added in the last year.


    Geni’s World Family Tree allows millions of people to work together to research and preserve their shared ancestry for future generations. By combining research into a single shared family tree, users are able to concentrate on pursuing new leads instead of repeating the same research over and over again. Over time, the quality and accuracy of the tree continues to improve as new information is discovered, errors are corrected, and new connections are found. With more and more profiles added every day and overlapping branches merged, Geni has become one of the premier go-to reference sites for global genealogy. 
  • 9 Nov 2020 7:53 AM | Anonymous

    From an article by Bimpe Archer in The Irish News:

    "Mr Biden's great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt, a brick-maker and civil engineer who helped to map Ireland, emigrated from the town 170 years ago, he had left some family behind.

    "It wasn't hard to spot his distant cousin. The plumber drives around town with a van emblazoned with `Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Blewitt for Your House'."

    From later in the same article: "Despite the surname Biden being first found in 13th century Hampshire before fanning out to Gloucestershire and Somerset and a family tree with branches in England and France, 10 of the President-elect's 16 great-great grandparents were born in Ireland - leading to more than one family homestead in the Emerald Isle."

    You can read more about Joe Biden's Irish and English ancestry at: https://bit.ly/359xa9b.

  • 9 Nov 2020 7:34 AM | Anonymous

    I have had 3 people ask about this in the past week. Thinking perhaps other people are not aware of the options, I decided to post a message here to describe those options.

    For several weeks, this newsletter has offered TWO different options of receiving email updates of newly-published newsletter articles. These are two separate mailing lists, unrelated to each other. Both are available free of charge. You can subscribe to one or to both or to none of them. Your choice:

    1. DAILY: You can receive a DAILY update. The word "daily" really means 5-days-a-week. New articles are usually published Monday through Fridays only. (I will occasionally skip a day when there is no "new news" or perhaps if I am traveling and cannot easily find an Internet connection.)

    The messages will automatically be sent around 3 AM (Eastern U.S. time) the following morning meaning that you will receive each email update early Tuesday through Saturday morning. These messages are available to everyone, paid subscribers or not.

    You may subscribe at: https://tinyurl.com/EOGN-News. You later can unsubscribe within a second or two, if you wish.

    2. WEEKLY: Plus Edition and Standard Edition subscribers may receive a ONCE-A-WEEK email message containing titles of all the new articles published in this newsletter in the past 7 days. These messages are usually sent on Mondays (I will occasionally delay it a day or two if I am traveling and cannot easily find an Internet connection.) Again, you later can unsubscribe within a second or two, if you wish.

    Thank you,

    - Dick Eastman

  • 6 Nov 2020 1:19 PM | Anonymous

    "History Repeats Itself"

    The idea that history repeats itself enables us to make predictions about cause and effect. When a strange coincidence occurs, we may find ourselves saying ‘well, history repeats itself’. This aphorism is rich in meaning and relevant to many aspects of our lives.

    ‘History repeats itself’ can be applied not only to the whole sweep of human history but also to our own individual lives. We all have a personal history, which can contain patterns and repetitions.

    ‘History repeats itself’ means that:

    • There are patterns that can be observed across history.
    • Similar events keep occurring again and again.
    • We should learn from our past mistakes.

    If you believe that "History Repeats Itself," you will want to look at an article by Kristen Rogers and published in the CNN website. The article compares today's Covid-19 pandemic to the last pandemic, the 1918 flu pandemic. It compares the experiences of our ancestors to very similar experiences today. Here is a short excerpt:

    "In the deadly fall wave of the 1918 flu pandemic, millions of people were doomed because they didn't know what we know now about how viruses and respiratory illnesses spread.

    "We might face a similar fate if some people continue to ignore what a century of scientific progress and hindsight have taught us about ending pandemics.

    "The 1918 pandemic transpired in three waves, from the spring of 1918 to the winter of 1919 — ultimately killing 50 million to 100 million people globally. The first wave in the spring of 1918 was relatively mild. A majority of 1918 flu deaths occurred in the fall of 1918 — the second, and worst, wave of the 1918 flu."


    The St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps was on duty with mask-wearing women holding stretchers at the backs of ambulances during the influenza epidemic in Missouri in October 1918.

    "Health experts expect Covid-19 infections to increase this winter because the virus that causes Covid-19 is a coronavirus, and other coronaviruses spread more during winter."

    You can read the full article at: https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/29/health/1918-pandemic-vs-2020-pandemic-fall-wave-wellness/index.html.

  • 6 Nov 2020 11:39 AM | Anonymous

    The following announcement was written by TheGenealogist:

    TheGenealogist has released the records of 83,498 individuals for the Lambeth area into its Lloyd George Domesday Survey property ownership and occupancy record set. This unique online resource includes maps and field books and gives family historians the chance to discover where an ancestor lived in the period just before and as the First World War began. This is a great tool to use with the 1911 Census giving lots of additional information about your ancestors' home, land, outbuildings and property. By making use of TheGenealogist’s powerful Map Explorer the researcher can see how the landscape where their ancestor lived or worked changed as the years have passed.

    The maps are linked to field books containing descriptions of the property, as well as revealing owners and occupiers, all of which have been sourced from The National Archives and are being digitised by TheGenealogist. With this release it is possible to precisely locate where an ancestor lived on a number of large scale, hand annotated maps for this part of London. These plans include plots for the exact properties at the time of the survey and are layered over various georeferenced historical maps and modern base maps on the Map Explorer™. This resource enables the researcher to thoroughly investigate the area in which an ancestor lived even if the streets were bombed out of existence in the Blitz and the modern redevelopment does not follow the same lines as the previous roads had.

    Roads on the Lloyd George Domesday Survey have disappeared from the modern map

    TheGenealogist’s Lloyd George Domesday records link individual properties to extremely detailed maps used in 1910-1915Fully searchable by name, county, parish and streetThe maps will zoom down to show the individual properties as they were in the 1910sThe transparency slider reveals a modern street map underlayChange the base map displayed to more clearly understand what the area looks like today.


    Lambeth records cover the civil parishes of Bishop’s, Brixton, Brixton North, Clapham North, Clapham South, Lower Norwood, Marsh North, Marsh South, Norwood, Prince’s, Stockwell North, Stockwell South, Streatham and Vauxhall.

    As we mark Remembrance Sunday this weekend read TheGenealogist’s article on Lambeth: A haven for the troops and birthplace of a V.C. hero: https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/featuredarticles/2020/a-haven-for-the-troops-and-the-birthplace-of-a-vc-hero-1350/

    About TheGenealogist

    TheGenealogist is an award-winning online family history website, who put a wealth of information at the fingertips of family historians. Their approach is to bring hard to use physical records to life online with easy to use interfaces such as their Tithe and newly released Lloyd George Domesday collections.

    TheGenealogist’s innovative SmartSearch technology links records together to help you find your ancestors more easily. TheGenealogist is one of the leading providers of online family history records. Along with the standard Birth, Marriage, Death and Census records, they also have significant collections of Parish and Nonconformist records, PCC Will Records, Irish Records, Military records, Occupations, Newspaper record collections amongst many others.

    TheGenealogist uses the latest technology to help you bring your family history to life. Use TheGenealogist to find your ancestors today!



  • 5 Nov 2020 8:20 PM | Anonymous

    Do you have a document or even a full-length book that you would like to enter into a computer's database or word processor? You could re-type the entire thing. If your typing ability is as bad as mine, that will be a very lengthy task. Of course, you could hire a professional typist to do the same, but that is also expensive.

    We all have computers, so why not use a high-quality scanner? You will also need optical character recognition (OCR) technology.

    OCR is the technology long used by libraries and government agencies to make lengthy documents available electronically. As OCR technology has improved, it has been adopted by commercial firms, including Archive CD Books USA, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, ProQuest (producers of HeritageQuest Online), Ancestry.com, Google Books, Archive.org, and many other companies.

    For many purposes, OCR is the most cost-effective and speedy method available. OCR is much better and cheaper than hiring an army of clerk typists. In some cases, you may be able to have an image of a document converted to text free of charge by using OCR services “in the cloud.” OCR does, however, have drawbacks.

    OCR is actually the second step in the conversion process. The first step is to scan the document or book in question, much the same as you would scan a photograph. The scanner converts each printed page to a bitmap file, a pattern of dots that actually comprise an electronic image of the page. Software that comes with the scanner stores the file on the computer's hard drive in TIFF, JPG, or some other image format.

    Next, specialized optical character recognition (OCR) software is used to examine every word the image and convert it to text. Older OCR software would compare the individual letters in a stored image against stored bitmaps of specific fonts. These pattern-recognition systems worked well with high-quality scanned images of text that used exactly the same fonts as those expected by the software. In other words, it rarely worked. It was rare that the scanned images exactly matched the stored bitmap images of individual characters. Only a few years ago, OCR had a reputation for inaccuracy.

    Today's OCR programs have added multiple algorithms of neural network technology to analyze the stroke edge, the line of discontinuity between the text characters, and the background. Allowing for irregularities of printed ink on paper, each algorithm averages the light and dark along the side of a stroke, matches it to known characters, and makes a best guess as to which character it is. The OCR software then averages or polls the results from all the algorithms to obtain a single reading.

    Finally, the derived words and sentences are sent through spell checkers and syntax analyzers, which try to find any remaining characters that were decoded improperly. These analyzers check the context of the words in each sentence. The software uses its stored knowledge of parts of speech and grammar to recognize individual characters.

    The results can be great for scanned English sentences. However, rows of numbers, such as stock market reports, generally do not fare well in the scanning and OCR decoding process. Neither do lists of names, such as found in telephone books, city directories, or old genealogy books.

    Today, OCR software can recognize a wide variety of fonts, but handwriting and script fonts that mimic handwriting are still problematic. Nobody has yet created a commercially successful OCR product for decoding handwriting.

    Technology advances have made OCR more reliable although still not perfect. Even with the best software available today, you can expect a minimum of 90% accuracy for average-quality documents. Despite vendor claims of one-button scanning, achieving 99% or greater accuracy takes clean copy and practice setting scanner parameters. It also requires you to "train" the OCR software with your documents.

    Another cause of OCR inaccuracy is scanner quality. Using a $50 scanner will always result in more errors than using a higher quality scanner, regardless of the OCR software used. The quality of the scanner's charge-coupled device light arrays (the part of the scanner that detects light and dark areas of the scanned page) will affect OCR results. The more tightly packed these arrays, the finer the image and the more distinct colors the scanner can detect. Such technology costs money. Cheaper scanners have less densely packed charge-coupled device light arrays, resulting in lower-quality scans.

    Smudges or background color also can fool the recognition software. Scanning a photocopy or a reprint of an old book also will create many additional errors. The human eye may think that each character is sharp and distinct, but the minute "fuzziness" of each character in a photo-reproduced page will impede the scanner's microscopic "eyes." One important outcome is that scanning an original book will always result in better OCR accuracy than scanning a reprint of the same book.

    These days I am using a Raven Plus scanner and its OCR capabilities are impressive. I runs about 99% accurate if the pages being scanned are crystal-clear quality. However, that high accuracy is also reflected in the Price of the Raven Pro: about $650 at Amazon and most other online discount merchants.


    To be sure, there is a cheaper version of the scanner as well. The Raven Original sells for “only” $420. However, I cannot vouch for the quality of the OCR conversion. I also know the Raven Original is slower (17 pages per minute versus 60 pages per minute for the Raven Pro).

    With both versions of the Raven scanner as well as with most other brands of scanners, adjusting the scan's resolution can help refine the image and improve the recognition rate, but there are trade-offs. For example, in an image scanned at 24-bit color with 1,200 dots per inch (dpi), each of the 1,200 pixels has 24 bits' worth of color information. This scan will take longer than a lower-resolution scan and produce a larger file, but OCR accuracy will be higher.

    A scan at 72 dpi will be faster and produce a smaller file — good for posting an image of the text to the Web — but the lower resolution will likely degrade OCR accuracy.

    Most consumer-grade scanners are optimized for 300 dpi, but scanning at a higher number of dots per inch will increase accuracy for 6-point fonts or smaller. Most commercial OCR services scan at much higher densities than 300 dpi.

    Text documents are normally scanned as bilevel (black and white only) images. Bilevel scans are faster and produce smaller files because, unlike 24-bit color scans, they require only one bit per pixel. Some scanners can also let you determine how subtle to make the color differentiation.

    Which method will be more effective depends on the image being scanned. A bilevel scan of a shopworn page may yield more legible text. But if the pages to be scanned have turned to a sepia color, or if the text of an old document has faded, the OCR software will struggle to identify each letter correctly.

    OCR scanning is a great convenience and will obviously reduce your need to re-type documents. However, the technology is still not perfect. Even with a high-quality scanner and today's best software, you can expect the scanning of old books to produce numerous errors. Significant manual "clean-up" will be needed.

    In the “good old days” of computing, say five years ago, the only method of performing OCR conversion was to purchase OCR software and install it in your own computer. The better OCR products are expensive to purchase, consume a lot of disk space, and require (expensive) powerful personal computers, and also may require frequent upgrades. While installing software on your own computer is still possible, it is losing popularity. If you want to perform OCR scanning “the old-fashioned” way, the following products are some of the more popular options for consumer use:

    Abbyy FineReader 10 Professional Edition for Windows: $199.99 at: http://finereader.abbyy.com. A free trial version is also available.

    Abbyy FineReader Express Edition for Macintosh: $119.99 at https://www.abbyy.com/en-us/finereader/pro-for-mac. A free trial version is also available.

    OmniPage by Nuance (now a part of Kofax): $149.99 to $499.99, depending upon the version selected, at https://www.kofax.com/Products/productivity?source=nuance

    ReadIris 12 for Windows and Macintosh: $99.99 to $199, depending upon the version selected, at https://www.irislink.com/EN-US/c1810/IRIS---The-World-leader-in-OCR--PDF-and-Portable-scanner.aspx (A free trial version is available.)

    SimpleOCR Freeware (limited capabilities but good for experimentation and learning): free at http://www.simpleocr.com/

    The above are list prices. You may find the same products sold at discount if you shop around.

    One warning: you often get what you pay for. While these products do vary somewhat, the cheaper products usually produce many more errors than do the higher-priced OCR products. It may be false economy to purchase a cheaper OCR product if you have to spend many hours "touching up" the errors. Spending a few dollars more at the beginning generally results in higher accuracy and significantly less "clean up" labor.

    As the world has moved away from free-standing computers with programs installed to perform various tasks, a new technology has emerged. It is now possible to upload images of text to very high-powered computers in the cloud and have those computers perform the conversion for you. Such conversions are always cheaper that purchasing and installing OCR software when all that is needed is a few hundred documents or less. In many cases, the OCR conversion can be performed free of charge!

    Free Cloud-based OCR Conversion Services

    Google Drive

    Google's cloud-based Drive service provides free OCR conversion to everyone (with up to five gigabytes of storage space). Drive will convert single pages or multiple pages at a time. I first created a new folder in Drive and then copied the .PNG image to that folder. I then waited about an hour. When I returned, I found I had two files in the folder:

    the original .PNG file and a new file that contained the new text

    Despite a bit of curling in the image of the original page, Drive did a great job of converting the image to text.

    For more information about Google Drive, go to https://support.google.com/drive/answer/176692?hl=en.

    My experience with the free cloud-based services was encouraging. The resulting OCR conversion was as accurate as the $500 commercial products and required no software installation and almost no disk space.

    Free Online OCR

    The site claims to be able to support PDF, GIF, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, and PNG as input. Outputs can either be DOC, a PDF text document, RTF, and TXT. In my brief experimenting with the site, I found the results were mediocre. If you want to convert simply-formatted documents to PDF, this is a great tool. In terms of converting to DOC the results weren’t as good as some of the other services.

    You can try it for yourself at: http://free-online-ocr.com.

    i2OCR

    i2OCR claims to recognize more than 60 languages, can handle multi-column layouts (by removing the formatting), has no file-size limits, can convert uploaded files and from URLs. However, it is simplistic. Namely, it doesn't attempt to preserve the formatting of the original text. The output is strictly text; no paragraphs, no bold, no italics, no underlining. You can quickly correct any mistakes in the side-by-side view, before copying the text to other programs, or downloading as DOC, PDF, or HTML.

    In short, you will still need to manually perform a lot of clean-up work. Check it out yourself at: http://www.i2ocr.com

    Online OCR

    Online OCR supports 46 different languages, and can convert PDF, JPG, BMP, TIFF, and GIF into Word, Excel, or Plain Text format. The site claims “converted documents look exactly like the original — tables, columns and graphics”. In my testing, the results usually looked "exactly like the original" although some manual clean-up was still required.

    You can convert up to 15 images per hour (5-megabyte limit). The output can be saved as DOCX, XLSX, and TXT but there is no option to save as PDF.

    Online OCR is available at: http://www.onlineocr.net

    In short, the free online OCR tools are worth what you pay for them. They are good for an occasional effort by an individual but you won't want to use them to convert hundreds of printed books to machine-readable versions.

    Summation

    Whether you “do it yourself” or if you use the power of the cloud, converting images of documents to text by the use of optical character recognition is a simple method of using very complex software. With today's technology, the complexity is normally hidden for the user. Simply create an image with a scanner or a high-resolution digital camera, submit it to the online or offline software, and wait a short while for the computer to make the conversion and return text to you. The results are rarely perfect but the required manual cleanup will still be much easier than re-typing everything by hand!

  • 5 Nov 2020 7:40 PM | Anonymous

    The following announcement was written by the folks at WikiTree:

    5 November 2020 : This week the WikiTree community reached a major milestone: 25 million profiles on our collaborative family tree.

    Since its founding in 2008, WikiTree has grown steadily but carefully. Millions of duplicate profiles have been merged and mythical ancestries have been deleted. WikiTree’s unique community culture prioritizes quality over quantity through careful genealogical sourcing and a commitment to accuracy.

    Of the 25 million profiles currently on WikiTree:

    • 21 million are connected to each other in a single web of family relationships. These connections show that all of humanity is one family. Visitors to WikiTree can explore how any two of the 21 million people are related to each other.

    • 7.4 million have DNA test connections. These connections indicate that one or more genealogists have taken a DNA test and are willing to compare test results in an attempt to confirm the profiled person’s family relationships. The ultimate goal is to use DNA to confirm all the relationships on our tree.

    • 750,000 represent registered members who have added or edited family profiles.

    • 167,000 are serious genealogists who have signed the Wiki Genealogist Honor Code. WikiTree has three levels of membership. All memberships are free and enable members to collaborate on family history in private and public ways, but only Honor Code signers have full editing rights.

    About WikiTree

    WikiTree is a 100% free community-based website that has been growing since 2008. Community members privately collaborate with close family members on modern family history and publicly collaborate with other genealogists on deep ancestry. Since all the private and public profiles are connected on the same system this collaboration grows one tree that connects us all and makes it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots. See http://www.WikiTree.com.

  • 5 Nov 2020 9:19 AM | Anonymous

    The following announcement was written by Findmypast:

    ·         Findmypast are encouraging their community to uncover the stories behind the names on war memorials to mark Remembrance Day 2020 

    ·         The Findmypast Community are encouraged to share their finds on social media using #RememberTheirStories 

    ·         Over 103 million military records will be free for everyone to view from November 5 until November 12   

    5 November 2020 

    To mark Remembrance Day 2020 Findmypast have launched a new campaign to encourage their community to discover the stories behind the names etched on war memorials.  

    In order to keep the legacies of these fallen heroes alive, Findmypast are asking their community to find out more about these men and the lives they led. Family historians are encouraged to use Findmypast’s comprehensive military records to do their research and unlock the stories behind the names before sharing their amazing discoveries on social media with #RememberTheirStories. 

    To support this campaign and to mark Remembrance Day, Findmypast are putting all their military records free between the 5th and 12th November. Family historians will then be able to search more than 103 million world military records for free until 10:00 GMT 12th November.  

    The free access will also give budding family historians the opportunity to uncover more about the military heroes in their own family as well. 

    To find out more about the #RememberTheirStories campaign, watch this video 

    https://youtu.be/kAfVyufgA8s 

  • 4 Nov 2020 9:14 PM | Anonymous

    Still another company has left the microfilm business: Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection some time ago. As part of the plan to save the company, Kodak management has announced the company will no longer manufacture cameras. Actually, Kodak previously had stopped the manufacture of film and cameras that use film. In recent years, Kodak has only manufactured digital cameras, and those, too, are now being dropped. The company is dropping all film products, including microfilm. The changes will have a major impact on genealogists.

    For years, genealogists, historians, and many others have relied on records recorded on microfilm. Some years ago, as the volume of paper created by government and industry became too great to store economically, government and industry welcomed microfilm, microfiche, and other micro-imaging techniques. Indeed, these tiny images have served us well. Millions of cubic feet of paper records have been compressed by microfilming and have been stored in much smaller filing cabinets.

    If microfilm had never been invented, the Social Security Administration alone would have needed to build dozens of warehouses for records storage and also would have needed to hire an army of clerks to sort, file, and retrieve those pieces of paper. The cost of all that would have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The conversion to microfilm and microfiche literally made record storage possible.

    Now we are seeing another conversion: from micro-imaging to even smaller digital imaging. Indeed, storing millions of documents on computer disks requires even less space than does microfilm. Fewer records storage warehouses need to be built and fewer clerks need to be hired. Digital records, even with multiple off-site backups, require significantly less space than do microfilmed records and a LOT less space than the same records stored on paper.

    Of course, digital imaging has other benefits as well. If properly scanned and stored, high resolution digital images can be sharper and easier to read than those stored on microfilm. Digital images can have less "fuzziness." In addition, distribution and display is much easier with digital images than images on microfilm. Microfilm readers are rare in homes and in many offices while low-cost computers are available most everywhere, even in a purse or briefcase. When was the last time you carried a microfilm reader in your purse or briefcase?

    For years, one of the big arguments against digital imaging was that of the storage media. The argument has been phrased, "Who will be able to read floppies in 8-inch, 5 1/4-inch or 3 1/2-inch formats twenty or fifty years from now?"

    Now we are seeing the same argument being used against the use of microfilm: who is going to be able to read microfilm or microfiche twenty or fifty years from now? That will be long after the last microfilm viewer has been relegated to a museum.

    To be sure, a microfilm or microfiche image can be viewed by using a strong magnifying glass and a bright light source. However, I have to ask: "Have you tried that?" It will work for one or two images, but I don't know of any genealogist who will sit and view hundreds of images on a single reel of microfilm by using a magnifying glass. Possible or not, viewing microfilms with a magnifying glass isn't practical for more than a few minutes.

    At Archives II in College Park, Maryland, the National Archives and Records Administration maintains a museum in the Department of Special Media Preservation. Here you’ll find a recording device that uses coils of thin steel wire instead of tape. There are 70,000 18-inch glass discs, each with two hours of enemy radio broadcasts from World War II. They play on a Memovox. There are 1800 reels of push-pull movie sound-tracks using equipment that has been obsolete for more than fifty years. There are a quarter million optical discs—the cutting-edge technology of the 1980s—that depend on software and hardware no longer on the market. All of these technologies are less than a century old, and yet the materials may be gone.

    The clay tablets from ancient Sumeria can still be seen today, but one has to wonder what percentage of the media survived. Perhaps millions of such clay tablets were created. We can never be sure. All we have today is a few dozen examples.

    Medieval manuscripts on animal parchment are perfectly readable (if you can red the handwriting), and paper correspondence from the Renaissance is still in good condition. Of course, we can assume that many of the originals were destroyed by fire, floods, earthquakes, wars, insects, and human indifference. How many of the originals still survive? Again, we will never know, but we can guess. I'd suggest that the majority of medieval parchment documents did not last until the twenty-first century. I'd guess that only a tiny percentage survived.

    We can go on and on. What is the shelf-life of an 8-track tape? How about the formats used? Do you remember WordPerfect? FoxPro? Netscape Navigator? Where have you gone, MS-DOS? CP/M? TRS-DOS?

    Alexander Stille points out in his book The Future of the Past, "Books printed on modern acidic paper are turning to dust. Black-and-white photographs may last a couple of centuries, while most color photographs become unstable within thirty or forty years. Videotapes deteriorate much more quickly than does traditional movie film. And the latest generation of digital storage tape is considered to be safe for about ten years, after which it should be copied to avoid loss of data."

    Eureka! Alexander Stille has found the answer.

    Let's examine the last part of that last sentence: "...AFTER WHICH IT SHOULD BE COPIED TO AVOID LOSS OF DATA."

    For centuries, the only effective method of preserving data has been to copy it to new media (disk, tape, paper, parchment, or whatever is available) while the original was still readable. Indeed, the more important documents have been copied often. Items copied frequently include the Bible, the Magna Carta, and similar documents. We all enjoy such documents today not because the originals are preserved, but because they were copied time and time again.

    I will suggest that the secret of "preservation" is not to preserve, but to copy frequently. We might also want to keep the originals, but keeping readable copies becomes even more practical. Always copy to the latest storage methods in common use today. Also, we want to copy images of the originals, not create transcriptions.

    Of course, there will always be a few exceptions. When looking at a Rembrandt painting, we want to view the original, not a modern-day reproduction. However, I will suggest for most all birth, marriage, and death records and other records of a similar nature, a high quality image of the original will suffice. In fact, today's digital technology can produce much higher-quality images than old-fashioned microfilm.

    Who cares if a record was copied to 5 1/4-inch disk some years ago? The important thing is to have that record later copied to 3 1/2-inch disk, later still to CD-ROM, and later still to whatever new technology becomes available at the time.

    The same is true for file formats. That old image may have been stored in BMP format, a file format that has almost disappeared today. Again, that is no problem if, and only if, someone copies it to .JPG or .TIFF or whatever-is-popular-today.

    The big question in my mind is this: who will become the caretakers of our information? In past years, we called them "preservationists." Now, as the technology improves, we will perhaps call them "information caretakers."

    Indeed, we already have thousands of "information caretakers." They already work at the National Archives, at museums, at MyHeritage.com, at Ancestry.com, at FamilySearch.org, at many libraries, and even at some of the larger genealogy societies. We already have thousands of "information caretakers" who are presently creating digital images of important records. They also are making the off-site backups, and they are converting older digital images to even more modern media as the technology improves. As the cost of storage continues to drop, we will see even more commercial companies compete with MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Google, and others to provide information to us, whenever and wherever we want it.

    Some of these new "information caretaker" companies will charge fees. Others will do so free of charge although they will have to find some method of gaining revenue so that they can continue to pay their bills and stay online to provide the service. In all cases, the bottom-line costs will be lower than doing the same with microfilm.

    I suspect we will not wonder for long "who will be the information caretakers?" We already have thousands of them, and even more are getting into the business daily.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter









































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