Monthly Archives: March 2011

Revising the B&F Forms System

A few weeks ago I launched a series of genealogy forms I call the B&F Forms System. The forms page has received nearly 2000 visits since it launched just a few weeks ago, and while I don’t know how many people are actually using them, I have received some good feedback from some of those who have tried them out.

I’m in the process of integrating suggestions from users of the B&F Forms System into new versions of the forms, and I want to go over what some of the changes will be before I finalize them. I think it’s important to get feedback on these types of forms, since so many people use them in so many different ways. Some changes are easy to make, and some more difficult. One reason I want to make sure everyone has had their say on the forms is that it’s relatively easy to change the layout of the forms, but it is very difficult to make them fill-able on the computer, so I don’t want to do that so too many times if I can help it.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

1) I’ve added a box where you can add the Date you filled out the form. In some forms where there is limited space, I’ve merged this with the Author box, which is not ideal, but if you’re filling out the form on the computer there should be plenty of space for both the name and date.

2) Terminology is a funny thing. I started with First Name and Last Name which are the terms I generally use, even though I don’t use them completely literally. In the genealogy program I use, for example, it has you add both the First and Middle name if it’s present to the same field. This may be why I didn’t think about the First Name field being a problem. However, to keep the terminology consistent and accurate, I’ve changed the first two fields for each person from First Name and Last Name to Given Name and Family Name. Given name is intended for all names that were given to the person, and thus includes any number of names that precede the Family Name. There is room in the Given Name field for several names.

3) I’ve added a field called Nickname/Alias. This is especially important for people who immigrated from one country to another, where their names may have changed many times. This field can be used to add any number of variations and alternate versions of the person’s given name. For example, I have an ancestor who moved from Romania to the US and was known as Shubsa. On the passenger manifest of the ship he took to the US, he is listed as Schaps. In America his name was Sam. He was probably also known as Shmuel (the Hebrew form of Samuel) in religious settings. If you were to enter ‘Sam’ as his Given Name, then in the Nickname/Alias field you could enter ‘Shubsa, Schaps, Shmuel’.

4) In order to make room for the new Nickname/Alias field, I merged the Birth City and Birth Country fields into the Birth Location field. There should be enough room to enter both a city and a country in this field, especially if you fill out the form on the computer. For consistency I’ve also changed Death City to Death Location, and Marriage City to Marriage Location. These changes actually make the forms more consistent overall.

Clicking on the image below will bring up a full page version of the Ancestor Form, which should illustrate the above changes. Changes on other forms are similar. If you have any comments on these changes, or think that other changes are needed, please post a comment and let me know. If there are no major comments, then I’ll get started soon making the forms fill-able on the computer, and then will update the forms online.

Special thanks to Cathy Moulton for the Date suggestion, and Thomas MacEntee for the Nicknames suggestion and for pointing out that many people are hard to differentiate by just their ‘First’ name.

Introducing B&F Enhanced Genealogy Search

So it’s been two weeks since I last posted, and that’s because I’ve been busy on a new project. When Mocavo, a search engine dedicated to genealogy, launched a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired to figure out exactly how they were returning the results they were returning, and how one can create topic-specific search engines.

It was not clear to me exactly how Mocavo collected its results – if for example it uses results from another search engine, and just releases the results that match a pre-set list of genealogy-oriented web sites, or if Mocavo is indeed operating its own search ‘spider’ to crawl the web and collect its own results. It seemed clear that while Mocavo did find good results within a number of major genealogy web sites, it didn’t appear to find results on many minor sites, or on major general web sites that might have small genealogy sections. For example, if someone posted a web page on their family on their own web site, or started a Yahoo Group to discuss a particular town or surname (such as described in my earlier post on mailing lists), it did not seem to appear on Mocavo. I don’t know what algorithm Mocavo uses, but I’m guessing it can’t currently find particular sites within larger general websites like Yahoo, so it ignores Yahoo altogether (to eliminate the chance of false positives).

Not knowing anything about how Mocavo put together their site, I decided to see what I could put together myself. Using tools provided by Google (I suspect Mocavo uses the same tools, just their paid versions that allow them much greater customization) I worked over the past couple of weeks to put together my own genealogy search engine. It is a bit more inclusive in how it determines which sites to search than Mocavo. It is thus more likely to find small genealogy sites, but also more likely to find some less-than-relevant results. That’s a compromise I’ve struck, which I think returns many interesting results than you might not find on Mocavo. Of course, Mocavo has the advantage of being a real company with employees who get paid to update the search results, so they can improve their results over time. As this is not my full-time job, I don’t have that luxury. Don’t think, however, that I’m trying to compete with Mocavo. This is just my own attempt at creating a useful search tool for genealogists, inspired by Mocavo.

Unfortunately one of the downsides of Google’s free search tools is ads. I can’t stop the ads from showing up unless I’m willing to pay Google for that privilege. I don’t know why Google shows ads more aggressively on custom search engines like this one then they do on their own search engine, but they do. I’m sorry about that, but there isn’t anything I can do about it.

When looking through the tools available to me, I tried to figure out how I could improve the results for genealogists. I came up with an interesting idea, but Google restricts how useful it can be. Basically when towns have undergone name changes or have different names in different languages, and a record shows up under a name of a town that is different than the version of the name you are searching, you will not get results. Google will actually help here with major cities, so for example if you search for Wien it knows to search for Vienna, but it does not know every version of every town one might be searching for, nor frankly should it as this technique can actually reduce the usefulness of search results when alternate names overlap. In any event, Google allows you to define synonyms for search terms, but limits the amount you can do.

As I was limited, I had to choose a small area to try this technique out on, and I chose the Galicia region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a particularly good region to choose, as it has been controlled by many different countries over time, had many different languages spoken, and most towns have many names. It’s also small enough of a region that it fits within the limits of what Google allows me to do. Part of the problem is that Google only allows uni-directional synonyms, which means you need to know which town name to search or the synonyms won’t kick in. To use a set of names that was easily definable, I’ve chosen to use the names at the top of the Locality Pages from the JewishGen Community Database for the given towns. Basically, whichever name appears at the top of a Locality Page for the given town is the one you should use – except don’t use accent marks or apostrophes in the name. You should use dashes if they are in the name. Obviously it must be a town that was part of Galicia. While this will only help people who are searching with one of the hundreds of Galician towns in their search query, if you are not searching with one of these town names, the search engine will still work well to help you find results among the many sites it does search.

I am open to all feedback on this search engine, and welcome feedback in the comments. Please leave comments on the search page itself, and not on this post, as this post is just an introduction and in the future people will just go straight to the search page.

Without further ado, I introduce B&F Enhanced Genealogy Search.

Introducing the B&F Forms System

Getting started in researching your family can be difficult. There is a lot to learn, both about how to do the research, but also about the tools needed to organize your research. As you move forward, I always recommend to people to invest in a good genealogy program on their computer, but at the beginning it can sometimes be easier to work on paper.

In this day and age, when I say paper this can also mean the virtual kind – PDF forms. There is no need to actually print out PDF forms, so you can keep them on your computer, share them, etc. without needing to waste real paper.

B&F Ancestor Form

I have designed a series of forms I call the B&F Forms System. You can use most of the forms by themselves, but it is a system because the forms complement each other and can be linked together.

For example, you might start with an Ancestor Form (sometimes called a Pedigree Chart) where you fill out information about yourself (the Source Person), your parents and your grandparents. If you know about generations going back further than that, you can start a new Ancestor Form with one of your grandparents as the Source Person. If you want to enter information about the Source Person’s siblings, or the siblings of their parents, you can fill out a Sibling Form. For parents in the Ancestor Form, you can fill out a Family Form which shows information about the parents and up to six children. If you need to add more children, you can add them to a Sibling Form. For each sibling in a Sibling Form, you can create a Family Form and write the number of the Family Form next to the name of each sibling. These are just some of the examples of how the forms interconnect, creating a full system of forms.

I invite you to go check out the forms yourself, try them out, and send me feedback (you can comment on the bottom of the Forms page).

In the future I will update the forms based on user feedback, and I will also be adding some new forms, such as research-specific forms.

As Genealogy Day is coming up this Saturday, if you have been looking for a way (and an excuse) to get started in your family research, now you have some forms that can help get you started.

So go check out the B&F Forms System.