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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

Close. But no Cigar. - Thu, 22 Jan 2015

My phone app says today would be my 95th day of working on Behold since I came back very motivated from Gaenovium. I’ve tried to put at least some work into Behold each day, and I likely missed fewer than 10 days over that time. I put in a significant amount of work (sometimes staying up until 2 a.m.) at least half of those days.

I was really hoping to get version 1.1 out this month (January). But my wife and I will be leaving in a couple of days on our first-ever winter getaway holiday together that’s not to a conference and not with our kids.

Behold version 1.1 is close. You can see on the Behold Future Plans page that I’m finishing up the last couple of items of 1.1. The documentation is important since this is not a beta version and documentation needs to be updated at major changes. Besides, running through and updating all the documentation is an excellent check that usually uncovers a few problems that can be fixed before the release, so I consider it a necessity.

My wife and I won’t get back until February, so 1.1 now has a February expected release. I promise it will be worth the wait. And my momentum and motivation should carry me forward to get to the next versions soon after.

Here’s a teaser of what we’re looking at:


We now have Spouse 1 and Spouse 2 information. The family information is no longer separate but is merged into each spouse. The difference is that the family information will be from that spouse’s point of view.

Same goes for the Life Events, which are shown in green. “Life Events” are the relevant events of the parents, spouses/partners and children of each individual, and the actual implementation of these is what has taken all this time since the last release.

There are quite a few programs now that show you a timeline view of an individual. I’ve come to realize that this is the best way to view your information. It puts the person’s life in context and allows you to make inferences about what happened to them.

Most programs that include timeline views include event information, the event date and place and some have the age of the person at the time. A few also include some of the parent, spouse and child events. Excellent!

But they cannot be set up to show all the relevant information you want to see all at once because they are usually a table in a fixed format. Behold’s Everything Report can show much more of what’s relevant, including the age and years of marriage of the relative, as well as all the notes and sources associated with the Life Events. Clicking icons to see those one-by-one just doesn’t do it.

For fun, take a look at my first mockup of what I thought this might look like. That was a contrived template I put together of what I hoped I’d build. It looks similar because I used it as a model to follow. What we’ve got now is actual working output, almost ready for release.

That was also over 2 and a half years ago. Wow! I wrote many blog posts over that time about some of my struggles to get Life Events implemented just right. I originally included just about every relative imaginable, but realized recently that more is not necessarily better, and the less relevant information about non-immediate relatives simply overwhelms and hides the important information - which is why it’s back to just parents, spouses/partners and children. The same goes for my Who’s Alive display. That was conceptually a good idea, but once I started implementing it, I saw that it did not add enough useful information to cancel out the added irrelevant noise. That made the report less useful, so it had to go.

So the last two years have been a roller coaster of development. It is not always clear what you’re going to get when you start. What is necessary is the right idea, which Life Events are. The implementation is more like following the yellow brick road with many obstacles. But finally Kansas is close.

I will be taking my new Lumia 930 Windows Phone with me and I should have access to respond to emails, follow the world’s genealogical happenings as I usually do, and Tweet and/or Google+ a bit. Maybe I’ll even add a few blog posts. But I’m really looking forward to this recharge, and then releasing 1.1 after I’m back.

To Do- or Not To Genealogy Do-Over - Wed, 7 Jan 2015

It seems the Genealogy Do-Over #gendover is the hot trend of early 2015. This is the idea that most of us who started doing our genealogy long ago, did not do it the correct way. We were name collectors and took anything and everything we could find and assembled it into our tree. We did not record sources. We did not do GPS. We believed everything we found was true.

So the idea of a Genealogy Do-Over is to put all that aside, maybe even throw it all away, and start completely over and do it again but correctly this time.

It may have been started by Thomas MacEntee, the master GeneaBlogger, who even purchased a domain name for his topic: http://www.genealogydo-over.com.

Elyse Doerflinger said she did one a few years ago, and for her it was worth it.

Then many started for themselves. Bart Brenner, Jenny Lanctot, Jennifer Morris,
Carrie Norwood gave us the image below as her rendition of her Do-Over:

and many, many others started taking this up as well.

Resources started popping up to help including this BagTheWeb page that tells you to join “thousands of others who will set aside years of genealogy.” and even a Facebook page.

Some notable bloggers decided to support the initiative but not go all the way, such as Dear Myrtle who is doing a “quasi” do-over, and Russ Worthington who said he will participate but not start his file over.

Others have decided not to do it, including Yvette Hoitink who gave 3 reasons and most notably Randy Seaver who has over the years documented his effort to improve what he has.


So What’s Going On Here?

Do people really need to redo their work. Is it that bad?

Actually, in most cases, Yes, it is that bad. We have been name collectors. We haven’t recorded sources. Our work is a mess. Our organization is a mess.

Even in my case, the last set of data I put together 15 years ago for my extended Kessler family of 1,600 people was all names and events (dates and places). No sources in that file. However, I did at the time realize the necessity to record sources and I instead had each document filed in binders, organized by source type and source. So it’s all there, just not entered into the last genealogy program I used.

For too long, genealogy software have stressed building your tree, and not documenting the evidence or your reasoning behind it. Even if you tried to document your sources properly, the software never promoted it. You had to do extra work to do so.

Things have got a bit better, but not much, and some efforts have gone backwards. The inclusion of citation templates actually adds a lot of overhead into your recording of sources. You have to find the right template and figure out precisely how to properly enter each field. It is not simple. It’s actually onerous.

Really, what you want to do is do four things:
1. Be organized
2. Record all your sources
3. Ensure that all the information from all your sources in included in your tree.
4. Document your reasoning for your conclusions.


But, Do We Need A Do-Over?

No. There’s a better way.

I’m a programmer. I’ve learned that it is not good to throw work away. There are gems in your previous work that you’ll never get back. And starting from scratch takes way longer than you expect. It’s a lot of work. Progress at times doing a do-over will be slow. Motivation will sometimes be difficult. So much so, you may stop looking forward to the “tedious” work you still have to do to get back to where you once were and you may lose the joy of genealogy that you once had. That would be a disaster.

The recipe, instead of a do-over, is an incremental fix. Keep what you’ve got and fix one part of it. Stir. Repeat until done.

To incorporate those four things I listed above, you need to switch modes. Switch from being people/conclusion-based to being source/record/evidence-based.

Do this incrementally. Take one of your sources, any one you want. Go through it rigorously. Find all the people and events that the source gives information about and go to your family tree program, check that each of the items is included and is accurate, and assign this source to it. If this is a digital source, put it in a new area on your computer organized in a source-based (not surname-based) way. If it is a physical source, place it in a new storage area organized by source-type and source. There are many ways to set this up, but that’s another topic for another time.

And every new bit of research you do (and you are allowed to do new research, which is more difficult during a do-over) will use your new source-based techniques.

Here’s the magic and beauty of all this. You will always have your entire genealogy to work from. Some will be old school, but it will slowly migrate to new-school. Each source you complete will make you feel very satisfied. You will correct past errors. And once one source is done, you’ll know you’ve covered it completely. Each one you do gets you closer and closer to getting your Re-Do done – the right way!

Now, I’m not saying this Genealogy Do-Over trend is necessarily a bad thing. The ideas being brought forward are great. The initiative is getting people involved again in their own genealogy in a big way. All the discussion is about trying to get you to do it the right way. This is fantastic.

In the end it’s up to you.
But I like the Source-Based Incremental Genealogy Fix.

Behold Wins a GenSoftReviews Users Choice Award - Sun, 4 Jan 2015

I’m very happy to be able to say that Behold has been given an award for being a Top Rated Genealogy Software by its users. See the official press release.


The award is given to any genealogy program that users gave an average rating of at least 4 stars out of five in 10 or more reviews with at least one review in the past year. Behold reached the 10 reviews just this past year and rated 4.26 stars out of 5. You can look at the individual reviews and ratings for Behold.

Now I have to say that I’m the one who developed, administers and maintains the GenSoftReviews site. And I’m the one who each year tabulates the winners, sends out the press release announcing the winners, and informs each of the winners of their award. I also moderate the reviews, deleting duplicates or spam or non-reviews, and try to prevent the site from being used as a discussion area, which is not what its for.

I try to ensure my work on my Behold program stays independent of the moderation duties I perform on GenSoftReviews. I have not in any way changed the ratings or reviews of Behold. They are as they were posted.

It took several years for Behold to get to 10 reviews, and the three reviews last year got it there. The algorithm I set up on GenSoftReviews to determine the time-decaying weighted average score was written many years ago. The site determines the winners, not me.

Listen to me. It’s almost as if I feel a little guilty winning the award.

But it really feels nice. I’m in good company, with 15 other programs including  well known and full featured programs like Family Historian, Ancestral Quest, Brother’s Keeper, Family Tree Builder, Reunion and RootsMagic.

I’ve now re-jigged my Behold home page, and put the GenSoftReviews award in a noticeable position on the top right of the page. You’ll notice some of the other winners have also done so.

I developed GenSoftReviews in part because of Behold. I was already trying to catalog all the other programs out there, to see what they do and maybe to find one that I would want to use. But I wanted more than a list. I wanted to know what other people thought of them. What was good, what was bad. Those ideas would help me decide what to do with Behold and help me make it better.

And by having Behold on GenSoftReviews myself, I get additional feedback. I am using Behold’s feedback on GenSoftReviews as another source of user input to help me make my product better. The goal is to have a program that people like, and if they don’t, to fix it.

I would hope that all the genealogy software developers use GenSoftReviews as their own useful benchmark. The goal is to have a program that your users will rate at least 4 stars out of 5. If you don’t achieve it, you are doing something substandard. Figure out what it is, fix the problem, and see if you can reach the benchmark the next year.

One program is not for everybody, just like one type of car is not for everybody. We all have our specific needs and preferences. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were not just 16, but 816 programs that won GenSoftReviews Users Choice Awards that you could choose from. Thats my challenge to the other genealogy developers. Lets get your products out there, but make them good. Good enough that your users will rate them at least 4 stars out of 5 and get you a Users Choice Award next year.


GEDCOM File Finder Wins a GeneAward

Meanwhile, I got another surprise in the new year. The freeware program called GEDCOM File Finder that I spun out of Behold won a Tamura Jones GeneAward for Best New Genealogy Utility of 2014. It was very nice to be recognized, and it is much appreciated.

Now, to get back to finishing Behold version 1.1