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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

About #RootsTech 2015 - Sun, 15 Feb 2015

This year I was #notatRootsTechbutWouldHaveLikedToBe.

RootsTech began in 2011 and became an annual event, held each year in February at the Salt Palace Convention Center in SaltLakeCity. It has been growing every year, starting with 3,000 attendees in 2011, 4,500 in 2012 and 6,700 in 2013. In 2014, they added Family Discovery Day bringing attendance up to 13,000. This year the conference was held alongside the conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies Meeting and a reported 20,000 attended.

I was at RootsTech in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, I entered Behold in the (what was then called) Developer’s Challenge. I was on a panel about “Sourcing, Citations, Meta Data”, I got to demo Behold in the demo hall, and give away 2 copies of Behold at Dick Eastman’s after conference dinner. In 2014, I met other developers at the Blue Lemon before the Innovator’s Summit and gave a talk on “Windows Phone for Genealogists”. Both years I went to many interesting keynotes and talks of use to me.

Both years, I enjoyed meeting all the people, asking questions and getting ideas. This is the perfect conference for me because the people cover all my venues. As a developer, I get to meet and spend time with other small developers like myself. The large companies: FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage and Findmypast are all represented, give talks, and have large booths in the exhibit hall. There were dozens of other genealogy software companies in the exhibit hall, and I talked to many of the developers who I’ve given GenSoftReviews User’s Choice awards to. I have contributed to the discussions on BetterGedcom, FHISO and GEDCOM X and I met many of the people involved in advancing genealogy standards. As a geneablogger, I got my blogger beads from Dear Myrtle and enjoyed talking to the bloggers I follow and met some new ones. Finally, I meet many Behold users, and learned more about you and what you want in your genealogy software.

A big thing I see that has been happening from these RootsTech Conferences is an increased interest in genealogy in North America. The keynotes include big names such as Laura Bush and Donny Osmond who are giving genealogy a higher profile. Watch Donny Osmond’s keynote and catch where he mentions PAF and GEDCOM.

But even more importantly, these RootsTech Conferences have been bringing out collaboration and sharing between the big genealogy companies. They are all here and talking to each other. I remember in 2012, Ancestry got a Keynote one day, and it felt like the “enemy” in hostile territory. But no more. Those first few RootsTech Conferences have been breaking down these barriers and there are now partnerships and data sharing going on that will get even better since everyone is talking. This will help genealogists everywhere and our pastime will evolve cooperatively.

I do highly recommend that everyone see the RootsTech Video Archive for 2015 as soon as you can, because it will not be up there permanently. They likely will put up all 15 live stream sessions, but as I write this, only half of the live stream sessions are there. I expect the others will be added soon. You will see the keynotes and a sampling of some of the talks. Especially don’t miss the Keynote of Tan Le.

I originally was not expecting to make it to next year’s RootsTech either. I’ll be speaking on the 11th Unlock the Past Cruise from Feb 14 to Mar 3, 2016. I was thinking the cruise was going to coincide with RootsTech 2016. But then, they announced that RootsTech next year would be a bit earlier than this year, from Feb 4 to 6, 2016 with the Innovator’s Summit on Feb 3. So now I’m going to try to arrange to go. Will I see you at RootsTech 2016?

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.