Category Archives: Software

1,000,000 database records passed at IGRA

I’m proud to announce that the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) has recently passed a million records in its All Israel Database. IGRA has been working on building this database for five and half years, and it’s an incredible accomplishment to have reached a million records in that time. We’re proud to make these records available to researchers across the globe (you just need to register for free on the site).

While I am currently the elected President of IGRA, I completely credit this accomplishment to our database volunteers who have worked hard and consistently for years to reach this stage. Under the leadership of Rosie Feldman, and with the help of Daniel Horowitz and Carol Hoffman, a team of dozens of volunteers have helped scan and index over three hundred data sources adding up to more than one million records.

Some recent databases that have been added, or added to, include Petach Tikva Marriages and Divorce 1928-1931, Jerusalem Marriages 1931-1940, British Mandate Marriage and Divorce Certificates, Teacher’s Union Members 1941, Israeli Name Changes 1954, Operation On Eagle’s Wings Immigrants 1949 (from Yemen), Israel Telephone Directory 1963, and Tombstones of the Jewish Cemetery of Salonica, Greece.

Archivist Award 2016
Archivist Award
These databases come from our close collaboration with more than thirty archives, both in Israel and abroad. Some of the archives we work with include the Israel State Archives, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Tel Aviv Municipal Archives, the Petach Tivka History Archives, and the Jerusalem Municipal Archives. Our work was recognized by the Association of Israeli Archivists last year when they presented us with an award in appreciation for our work with their member archives.

IGRA’s All Israel Database is the only major online genealogy database that is completely bi-lingual, being searchable in both Hebrew and English. IGRA works very hard to insure that databases that originate in Hebrew are searchable in English, and databases that originate in English are searchable in Hebrew. Our bi-lingual database has been made possible with the help of Brooke Schreier Ganz and her LeafSeek platform. Brooke may be better known these days as the head of Reclaim the Records, or her board role at Gesher Galicia, but she is also critical to our success here at IGRA and we are very grateful to all her hard work.

Indexing a million records is no easy task, and part of the problem is just coordinating all the work, and making sure the work assigned to people gets completed. To that end, we have been looking for many years for an online tool, similar to those used by Ancestry and FamilySearch for their volunteer indexing efforts. Recently we worked with Banai Feldstein, to insure our requirements were considered as she developed her Crowd-Sourced Indexing (CSI) tool. While other groups are currently using her great indexing tool as well, a quick look at the rankings of top indexers using her platform show they are all indexing IGRA records. Many thanks to Banai for developing the tool that helped push us past the million record mark earlier, and which will enable us to get the next million that much faster.

So thank you again to everyone who has made this milestone possible. If you want to help get the next million records online, please sign up at Crowd-Sourced Indexing, and check out the data we’re currently indexing. As of this writing we’re currently indexing the 1963 Telephone Directory in English, as well as a 1939 Petah Tikva Voters List and a 1936 Tel Aviv Voters List in Hebrew. Check back often as we have many other projects in the queue that get posted as soon as we complete what’s online (see the list of 30 completed indexing projects on the site).

Lastly, if you’re going to be at the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy next month in Orlando, be sure to stop by the Share Fair on Sunday, July 23 between 12:30pm and 4pm (Swan Foyer), or the Israel Research BOF meeting on Monday, July 24 between 3:30pm and 4:45pm (Pelican 2), to meet IGRA volunteers and find out more about the work we do and the databases we are working on.

TreeSync end-of-life announced, with under two weeks left of service

TreeSync, for those who don’t know, is the feature of Family Tree Maker (FTM) that allows it to sync with family trees on Ancestry.com. At least, it was. Ancestry stopped selling FTM in 2015 (see Ancestry just killed off Family Tree Maker and Managing the FTM transition), then sold it to Software MacKiev (their existing partner for publishing FTM on the Mac) in 2016 and announced that RootsMagic would also sync with Ancestry family trees (see Ancestry comes up with solutions for FTM users).

The about boxes of that last version of FTM by Ancestry, and the first version by Software MacKiev

Over the past year that Software MacKiev has owned FTM, they’ve come out with a single small update that mostly fixed things behind the scenes, and updated the software so it showed Software MacKiev as the publisher. If you look at the above About boxes, you’ll noticed that as it is the Mac version, both were actually created by Software MacKiev, although they were the publisher only in the newer version.

I haven’t had a CD drive for my computer in years, but apparently you can get the new version on CD if you want

Yesterday, Ancestry announced that TreeSync would cease to work on March 29, just 9 days later, and would be replaced by a feature called FamilySync in FTM. In order to use FamilySync, however, you would need to upgrade to a new version of FTM. That upgrade costs $29.95 if you order in advance of the release, and will cost $39.95 when the software is released (expected to be on March 31).

While I am an owner of FTM, and even upgraded to the latest version just a couple of months ago, I still have not received an e-mail from Software MacKiev about the upgrade. They now have two pages on their web site, both updated today, about the upgrade – Family Tree Maker 2017 FAQ and FamilySync to replace TreeSync in FTM 2017.

MacKiev says the upgrade was announced simultaneously with Ancestry yesterday, although that’s strange since I haven’t received an e-mail yet. Who did they announce it to if not their customers? Were they planning to wait until after the $10 discount is over?

In any case, it is strange that they’re only giving customers 9 days to do a paid upgrade in order to keep a major feature of FTM. This reminds me of the way a lot of people felt when Ancestry first announced that they were stopping the sales of FTM back in 2015 without giving customers any kind of transition plan.

Also strange is that Ancestry did not mention the status of RootsMagic’s integration with Ancestry. Both FTM and RootsMagic were supposed to be using the same method to sync with Ancestry, and while it’s not up to Ancestry when RootsMagic releases its version with support for syncing, one would think they would at least mention that it would be supported by RootsMagic soon as well. It’s especially strange since RootsMagic previewed their sync feature, called TreeShare, on their blog earlier this month.

In addition to the ‘new’ FamilySync feature, the new version of FTM (dubbed FTM 2017) also includes integration with FamilySearch, a ‘color coding’ feature and a photo editor.

If you’re interested in upgrading to the new version, and like me have not gotten an e-mail yet, you can get the upgrade by going to one of the following geographic-based edition links – United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Apparently these editions correspond to which version of Ancestry you are subscribed to, and you need to have the correct edition that matches the version of Ancestry to which you subscribe. I’m not sure what would happen if you bought the US version (the cheapest by the way) and tried to connect to a different version of Ancestry.

Google PhotoScan – a genealogists best friend?

google-photo-scan

Google has introduced a new app for both Android and iPhone for scanning printed photos. You can even photograph pictures in glass frames and it will remove the glare.

They’ve put out an amusing video to explain how it works:

https://youtu.be/MEyDt0DNjWU

I’ve had reservations in the past about phone-based scanning apps for genealogy purposes, especially those that try to scan more than one photo at once (such as a page of photos in an album). My primary concern was that by scanning multiple photos in a single picture, you are drastically reducing the resolution of the photos. Google PhotoScan, however, seems to go in the opposite direction, letting you take multiple photos with your phone to construct a single hi-res glare-free version of the photo you are scanning. This seems more in the right direction.

One problem genealogists run into is finding and copying family photos. Sometimes they’re sitting in one’s attic in a box, but many times they’re sitting in someone else’s attic, or some distant cousin’s photo album. This is the kind of problem that has been addressed by products like the Flip-Pal mobile scanner in the past, although this app is probably easier to use and in many cases will probably return a better result. There are still some cases where a flatbed scanner will probably return a better result, but the advanced algorithms used by this app will be able to get better results most of the time (especially for pictures behind glass).

I haven’t had a chance to test out the app yet, but I welcome comments by others who have, and I will add my own observations once I’ve had a chance to kick the tires.

Is a third option for transitioning from FTM on the horizon?

I know the transition from FTM doesn’t fall within the primary purpose of this blog, but I’ve always covered the technology of genealogy, and I think the FTM transition has been an important story in genealogy, and has a lot of interesting implications.

I previously reported on the retirement of FTM, what options were out there for transitioning away from FTM, and most recently about Ancestry’s selling of FTM to a third party (Software MacKiev) and licensing it’s APIs to another company (RootsMagic).

In my earliest post on the topic of FTM’s retirement, I mentioned a discontinued product called AncestorSync that had been created to move data between different genealogy programs and services. The need for something like AncestorSync existed (and still exists) because the only way to transfer data between genealogy programs and services has been to use a GEDCOM file, whose standard was last updated back in 1999. GEDCOM hasn’t evolved with genealogy programs, and because of that it cannot transfer everything we collect in our genealogy programs to another program or service without losing some data. Not every program or service interprets GEDCOM the same way either, which leads to other programs like data corruption.

This is why the FTM transition is so interesting. As if to prove how big of a problem all of the above is, we’ve seen multiple genealogy software companies modify their programs to better import GEDCOM files from FTM. So far GEDCOM is the only option available, but by the end of the year there will be the two options I recently mentioned – an updated FTM under new ownership, and a version of RootsMagic that can import FTM files directly. That two companies other than Ancestry will now have software capable of importing FTM files directly, is only because Ancestry no longer views these companies as competitors. Up until now, it wasn’t in Ancestry’s interest to allow any third-party company to be able to read the FTM file format other than themselves.

So we know have two groups of options for former FTM users. We have a slew of genealogy software companies that have updated their programs to better import FTM-generated GEDCOM files, and we have a second smaller group (pair) of companies that will be able to read FTM files directly. That brings us to the third possible option, which I mentioned way back in December, and again just up above – AncestorSync. Years ago when AncestorSync was being introduced I happened to meet the CTO of the company producing it, Dovy Paukstys. We were at a genealogy conference, and he was showing off his product. When FTM made their announcement, I fired off a tweet to Dovy, wondering if AncestorSync might be resurrected. AncestorSync fell off the radar two years ago, and Dovy had moved on to other things, but I figured he would know what happened to the technology.

Back in December I hadn’t heard a response, and didn’t think much about it until a couple of days ago when Dovy finally responded:

dovy tweet
So it seems there might now be another option for FTM users on the way. The goal of AncestorSync, as I recall, was to allow the transfer of data between programs and services while retaining all the information. AncestorSync had modules for each program or service it supposed, and allowed you to move data around between the different modules. Initially the services and programs supported included Geni, MyHeritage, FamilySearch,  ourFamilyology, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, PAF, Ancestral Quest and FTM. I do remember work was underway on The Master Genealogist (since discontinued) and MacFamilyTree.

Of course, if a new standard were to emerge to replace GEDCOM, a program like AncestorSync wouldn’t be necessary. As efforts like GEDCOM X and FHISO haven’t yet managed to come up with a format that can handle better interchange of data and get it accepted by the genealogy software ecosystem, AncestorSync might yet fill the void.

Ancestry comes up with solutions for FTM users

I previously mentioned the cancelation of Ancestry’s Family Tree Maker (FTM) software, and also wrote about options for transitioning to other programs for FTM users. One of the things that surprised me was how Ancestry had not seemed to think about the users at all and how they would move on beyond FTM. They had long claimed that FTM was the most popular desktop genealogy software, and yet they’d let this large user base to drift in the wind, so to speak. The right way to have done it would have been to figure out a transition plan, found a buyer for the program, or opened up their APIs to other programs, etc. all before getting out of the desktop software business.

In my original post, I hoped they would come up with solutions in the year between their announcement and the final discontinuation of the product. It seems that now they have. It would have been better to have done this before their announcement, but at least they’ve done it.

Ancestry announced on their blog that they’ve come up with two official transition options for FTM users.

FTM_2x
Now officially Software MacKiev Family Tree Maker
The first solution is that they’ve sold the actual FTM program to Software MacKiev, who had already been producing the Mac version of FTM for several years. Now they will be responsible for both the Mac and Windows version of the program. Software MacKiev is a well-established software developer from the Ukraine, with offices in Boston, MA as well. Software MacKiev is known for producing the current Mac versions of some early software programs like The Print Shop (originally published on the Apple II) and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (originally on DOS).

Ancestry-New-Leaf
RootsMagic’s announcement about working with Ancestry
The second solution is that they’ve allowed a third-party genealogy software company, RootsMagic, to access the same APIs as FTM. This means that the RootsMagic program will be able to search Ancestry.com, get Ancestry hints, sync data with trees on Ancestry.com, and perhaps most importantly for FTM users, will be able to directly import FTM files instead of needing to export first to a GEDCOM file. While RootMagic does mention syncing with Ancestry, they have specifically left out Ancestry’s trademarked term TreeSync. This makes me wonder if they will be able to sync in the same way that FTM syncs, or if they will need to upload the entire tree each time there is a change.

It remains to be seen if Ancestry plans to offer access to their APIs to other genealogy software companies. In my post on transitioning from FTM, I listed eight different desktop genealogy programs, all that could potentially partner with Ancestry for the same access, with the exception of Family Tree Builder, from MyHeritage. It wouldn’t make sense for Ancestry to work with MyHeritage since it is one of Ancestry’s major competitors in both online trees and more importantly online research. I suspect Ancestry will probably not add new partners this year. They’ve already said RootsMagic will support Ancestry by the end of the year, and I imagine they want to get that working well before adding new partners.

The real question going forward is how two third-party companies are going to move forward with accessing what were previously private Ancestry APIs. Software MacKiev has already worked with these APIs, so they’re ahead of the game. What happens when one company or the other needs a change in the API? or when Ancestry changes something that breaks an API? What about when Ancestry adds a new feature that would be helpful if accessed via the APIs – will Ancestry be adding it to the API? Ideally all three companies (Ancestry, Software MacKiev and Rootsmagic) have some kind of committee in place to handle these issues. If Ancestry expands access to their APIs to more companies, these issues will only become more complex, so I hope they’ve figured out a plan for these issues already.

So thank you Ancestry for coming up with solutions for your FTM users. Yes, it would have been better to do this before your announcement in December, but better late than never.