Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Genealogical Crisis of the Month: Government Destruction or Restriction of Records

After writing my short quasi-satirical piece on the Genealogical Crisis of the Month Club, I found that my example of the crisis concerning governmental restrictions limiting access to information was a real concern. With some small effort, I tracked down a bill before the Parliament of Australia entitled the "Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015." The online news reports of the effects of this bill are drastic. Here is one such article on the ExtremeTech website, "New Australian bill could outlaw VPNs in bid to stamp our Hulu, Netflix 'piracy'." A "VPN" is a Virtual Private Network or a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization's network. See SearchEnterpriseWAN.TechTarget.com. What is happening here is that the TV and movie companies are claiming, without actually proving, that Netflix and Hulu are violating their copyrights. Rather than forcing the companies to prove their claims, the government is contemplating passing a bill to limit online access to the services by giving the companies the right to shut down or limit the Australian public's access to Netflix and Hulu.

It may seem a jump from limiting access to some TV shows and movies to limiting genealogists from accessing records about dead people, but it is really all about the same conflicting interests: copyright, privacy and government control. You might not have noticed at all, but there was a recent controversy over the availability of the United States, Social Security Administration's Death Master File and the resulting Social Security Death Index or SSDI. The gist of that ongoing controversy was the fact that the Social Security Numbers of dead people, including dead children, from the SSDI were being used to generate false claims to the Internal Revenue Service. Rather than simply have the Internal Revenue Service check the SSDI or the Death Master File to verify the validity of Social Security Numbers, the United States Congress, after hearing testimony, decided to limit access to the records to everyone. Companies who were putting the SSDI online, such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org were accused of "aiding and abetting the fraud." In other words, those who were simply providing public record information were the "cause" of the people who were illegally using the information. So, just as it apparently happening in Australia, the United States Legislature passed a bill limiting access to the records to the public rather than addressing the root of the problem, the lack of competence of the Internal Revenue System. This was done without one shred of evidence that anyone had actually used either Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org to defraud the government. See H.R.295 - Protect and Save Act of 2013113th Congress (2013-2014). For a more current summary of this Bill, which was passed on 26 December 2015, see "Last Chance to Comment on Rules Regarding Social Security Death Index Access."

The practical effect of the passage of the law is that Social Security Numbers have disappeared from the records supplied by FamilySearch.org etc. in their SSDI listings. Ordering a copy of the person's SSA 711, Application for Social Security became much more difficult and expensive.

You may have also heard that the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was lost in a fire. That is true for part of the records, but what happened to most of the records was that they were destroyed by the U.S. Government. See "First in the Path of the Firemen"The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1 By Kellee Blake.

I could go on and on about this subject. There is no question in my mind that the diseases talked about each month in the old Reader's Digest and the current diseases and conditions highlighted in my current AARP Magazine are real, the question, of course, is how do we as individuals react to and confront this ongoing litany of crisis? If I have learned one thing in the last 40 years of being a lawyer is that there is almost always a work around for any disaster: unless you end up dead, you fight back. If you want a place to start for worrying about the loss of genealogically important records, you can start with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and oh, by the way, you might discover that no one really knows when it happened. See Wikipedia: Destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Join the Genealogical Crisis of the Month Club

Genealogy is all too placid. What we really need to liven things up is a Genealogical Crisis-of-the-Month Club! One of my very early, distinct memories is when I was living in a very small town in Eastern Arizona, far away from the civilized world, was of seeing a large airplane fly high above my head and being worried that it would drop an Atom Bomb on me. Notwithstanding the fact that the fear was ungrounded, it was real.

When I was a little older, I used to read the Reader's Digest. The one amazing thing about this magazine (don't get me started on Condensed Books) was that every month, month after month, they seemed to come up with a new disease threat. In my impressionable youth, I was constantly worried about symptoms and whether or not I had that Month's malady.

As I grew much older, my fears and concerns began to spread to such things as terrorists attacks, environmental collapse and global warming. Now, I have added the burden of a genealogical crisis to the litany of things I have to worry about. Now, let's see. What can I worry about today? Maybe I should start worrying about governments shutting down all the libraries, archives and limiting all the records due to "privacy" concerns. This, of course, will be caused by the "Privacy for the Deceased" Action Committee. After all, we don't have enough to worry about, do we?


Is there a better way to document complex familial relationships?

By Sg647112c (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I recently got into an exchange with genealogist David McLean. David wrote to me outlining some of his ideas on the need to simplify the concept of relationships usually expressed by this Table of Consanguinity shown above. Personally, I cannot remember a time when I did not understand the idea of cousins once or twice removed. But as I got into teaching genealogy, rather than just doing it, I quickly learned that most people (nearly all?) were mystified by the concept.

It is important to understand that this structure is entirely Western European based. The terms used to designate relationships, which may appear to some to be "self-evident" are culturally determined and vary considerably throughout the world. We also get into the illusion of cultural superiority when we think that there is one "right" way of defining a world view. I guess occasionally, we run into a world view that differs from our own and we have wars and strife over the differences. My own ancestral history has some twists and turns that are not well accepted by the mainstream of our European-based culture, at least in the United States.

Although even in the mainstream of life in the United States today, issues such as polygamy seem rather "well settled," we actually live in a highly complex relationship structure that doesn't fit well into this Table of Consanguinity. For example, what relationship do I have to my brother's former wife? Since she is no longer an "in law" because there is no legal relationship between her and her former husband, what do I call her? Does the divorce affect my relationship with my nieces and nephews? What do I call the second wife of my uncle? Are her children, not the children of my uncle, my cousins? Are the children of my Great-grandfather's second wife, the one I am not related to by blood, my cousins? How do I explain that one cousin and I share the same Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother, but another cousin shares only my Great-grandfather?

Even though we would like to believe that the straight-forward chart above "explains it all," in fact, it is merely an artificial construct that works only within a very narrow and confined context that does not easily make allowances for the great variety of relationships that actually exist in our society. In addition, the chart fails to tell us anything about the real relationships, meaning the socially initiated relationships that exist and are the basis of the practical realities of our lives. For example, I may have almost no contact with or involvement with various family members who are "close" relations and yet have a very close relationship with other family members who are not a closely related.

Genealogy has a distinct tendency to paint family relationships, at least in the United States, with a broad, ill-defined brush. As I have written many times in the past, our genealogy programs do a poor job of preserving and documenting these "outside of the box" relationships.

Is there a way to cut through this haze of relationships and develop a common terminology? Maybe. I do think that the concerns expressed by David McLean and others are legitimate. But linguistically, I doubt that any contrived set of terms or relationships imposed by genealogists on their databases will have much of an effect on the overall concept of relationship in our country or in any other county.

The main thrust of the concerns expressed by David McLean were directed at the results of hearing things such as "a 15th cousin, three generations removed. There is a program, currently popular among some interested in genealogy, called Relative Finder from Brigham Young University (BYU). Here is a screenshot of the startup page.


In addition, there are many other programs that purport to reveal how you are related to various famous people, both current celebrities and historic figures. All of these programs have the fatal flaw of assuming that the database used to calculate these extreme relationships are at all accurate. For example, the current local fad to use Relative Finder to establish distant relationships using the FamilySearch.org Family Tree ignores the fact that those relationships are far from settled, documented or even presumably accurate. These facts are ignored with the excuse that these types of programs are a way to get people involved with genealogy. Personally, I am not sure how my interest in genealogy was increased when I disproved a family story that I was related to Daniel Boone, but that is discussion for another post.

That said, I think David has some interesting and very helpful ideas and I certainly agree that David's explanation is a great help in understanding the sometimes impenetrable jargon!  In the context of programs such as Relative Finder, David's concept are extremely useful. He says,
The key thing to remember is that for two people to be related they must share at least one common ancestor. In other words, if I look at my family tree and find and the same individual as one of your
ancestors, we are related! If we share parents, we are called siblings. If we share a 1st generation grandparent we are 1st cousins; if we share a 2nd generation grandparent, we are second cousins; if we share a 3rd grandparent, we are third cousins; if we share an n-th grandparent, we are n-th cousins. (If we share only a grandfather, but not his wife, we are half-cousins, etc. but that is getting more technical.)
It is fairly straight forward to visualize that my 1st cousin’s children would be my “1st Cousin 1 Generation Removed” because they have one more “hop” to reach the our common ancestor. Their children likewise would be my “1st Cousin 2 Generations Removed” (one additional hop). But what about relationships the other way? 
My aunt is nothing more than a “Sibling 1 Generation Removed”. This means she is a sibling to one of my direct ancestors. A “1st Cousin 15 Generations Removed” is nothing more than a 1st cousin to one of my direct line ancestors. In this case my 13th generation grandparent, (i.e. 2 hops to a grandparent, so 15 becomes 13). 
This is especially useful in visualizing relationships from the BYU Relative finder. Say one of my friends is my “12th Cousin 3 Generations Removed”. This means that her 12th grandparent is my 15th grandparents (she has 14 hops to get to the common ancestor. I have 17 hops to the same common ancestor). This just means nothing more than that her ancestors, on average, were just a bit younger than my ancestors when my direct line ancestor was born (I have more hops). There no more mystery! 
And finally, using the BYU Relative Finder I learn that I am “2nd Cousin 8 Generations” removed to George Washington. What exactly does this mean? It simply means that George Washington is a 2nd cousin to one of my direct line ancestors. Likewise, if Albert Einstein is my 1st Cousin 3 Generations removed, he would be a 1st cousin to one of my direct line ancestors (pretty cool huh!)
He goes on to criticize the use of the term "great," when applied to grandparents. Here is what he suggests:
The complexity all comes from our habit in the English language (and many other western languages) of inserting a "great-" before a grandfather, thus making the cousin relationships have an "off by one" problem. It?s hard to remember that if we share a 2nd great-grandfather, we are third cousins. Just don't use the great, he is your 3rd generation grandfather, and we are 3rd cousins. Everyone immediately understands and relationships are so much easier to visualize.
This is something I have been doing for years. I refer to my extended grandparents as my "3rd great-grandfather," but David takes this a step further and takes out the "great." Good suggestion. He goes on to talk about "removed" relationships:
The same concept extends to "removed" relationships. The removed refers to the number of generations removed a relationship is. If my 3rd grandfather is your 5th grandfather, we are 3rd cousins (the lower number) 5 minus 3 equals 2 generations removed; if my 8th grandfather is your 9th grandfather, we are 8th cousins 1 generation removed, etc. The complexity comes from our habit of saying "times removed." They are not "times removed" whatever a "time-removed" is. Just say "generations removed" and everyone will immediately understand you and appreciate the clarity.
This is certainly an interesting way of explaining a complex system. Thanks to David McLean for the example and suggestion for yet another blog post.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Secret of Erikoussa -- A Remarkable Genealogical Story



Here is another fabulous story from MyHeritage.com. Here is an excerpt from the notice I received about the story.
MyHeritage has been working closely with Emmy Award winning writer, producer and author, Yvette Manessis Corporon. About a year ago Yvette published a book called "When The Cypress Whispers". The book is fictional but some of it is based on true stories she grew up hearing from her grandmother, including the secret of the Greek Island of Erikoussa. 
When the Nazi's invaded Corfu, most of the Jewish citizens were killed, but a tailor by the name of Savas was able to escape with his three daughters, and a girl called Rosa, to the nearby Island of Erikoussa. Savas' had customers and acquaintances on the Island, but what was incredible was that the entire Island joined forces - at risk of death - and gave refuge to Savas and his girls, and kept their identity secret from the Nazis, for the duration of the war.  
Yvette's grandmother was one of those Islanders. She was good friends with one of the girls, and so Yvette turned to MyHeritage to ask if we could help find the family. We did, and an emotional (although virtual) reunion took place between Yvette, and Rosa's sons.  
How Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage Founder and CEO found the descendants - is a true example of genealogy detective work at it's finest, but I don't want to ruin it for you - I invite you to watch this segment from Israeli prime time news (with english subtitles embedded) to see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Oijpqpx2gY
See also the following article. http://www.ynet.co.il/home/0,7340,L-8,00.html

This is not the end of the story, as the notice goes on to say:
This is an unfolding story, there are still puzzle pieces we're putting together, but until then it's great that the heroism of the islanders has come to light, and we were happy to be able to connect two families with a remarkable shared history.  
In June these families will be reuniting on the Island for the first time since the war. They will be attending a special ceremony in which the Islanders' bravery will be recognized, and an award presented to Erikoussa.


Ancestry.com introduces the AncestryAcademy


Ancestry.com has formally announced it new AncestryAcademy. In a blog post entitled, "Introducing Ancestry Academy, a New Way to Learn About Family History," they stated that the new educational website offers exclusive, high-quality video courses taught by genealogy and family history experts. Ancestry Academy courses cover a wide range of relevant family history topics and offer something for genealogists of all levels. The courses are described as follows:
Learn at your own pace – Ancestry Academy’s in-depth courses are broken into a series of short lessons that let you learn when you want and how you want. Watch a course all the way through or pick and choose the lessons most interesting to you. 
Test your know-how – Try out your skills and take optional tests to make sure you’re getting the most out of every course. 
Learn on-the-go (coming soon!) – Learn at home or on-the-go with the free Ancestry Academy app, available for iOS and Android devices later this spring. 
New courses added monthly – Continue strengthening your family history expertise with new courses added every month. 
Free courses – Courses about Ancestry products and websites (AncestryDNA, Fold3, Family Tree Maker, etc.) are offered for free. Simply log in with your Ancestry account or create a new account to start learning 
And much more – Ancestry Academy coures are loaded with other helpful tools like closed captions, digital handouts, course placeholders, and more.
Click on this link to go directly to the AncestryAcademy.





https://academy.ancestry.com/academy/course/find-urban-ancestors

https://academy.ancestry.com/academy?o_xid=57463&o_lid=57463&o_sch=Social


DPLA Partners with HathiTrust to support Open E-Book Programs

Two websites all genealogists ought to be familiar with are the Digital Public Library of America or DPLA and the HathiTrust. In a recent blog post, the DPLA announced a partnership with the HathiTrust to support open E-book programs. Quoting from the HathiTrust.org website:
The HathiTrust.org is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future. There are more than 100 partners in HathiTrust, and membership is open to institutions worldwide.
The website currently hosts more than 13 million total volumes with over 5 million in the public domain. Genealogists will find this a treasure trove of information from surname books to local and state histories. The Digital Public Library of America currently has over 10 million items from libraries, archives, and museums. The DPLA is dedicated to providing this content free to the entire country.

Quoting from the blog post entitled, "DPLA and HathiTrust Partnership Supports Open E-Book Programs."
The Digital Public Library of America and HathiTrust have had a strong relationship since DPLA’s inception in 2013. As part of our ongoing collaboration to host and make digitized books widely available, we are now working to see how we can provide our services to exciting new initiatives that bring ebooks to everyone. 
The Humanities Open Book grant program, a joint initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is exactly the kind of program we wish to support, and we stand ready to do so. Under this funding program, NEH and Mellon will award grants to publishers to identify previously published books and acquire the appropriate rights to produce an open access e-book edition available under a Creative Commons license. Participants in the program must deposit an EPUB version of the book in a trusted preservation service to ensure future access. 
HathiTrust and DPLA together offer a preservation and access service solution for these re-released titles. Since 2013 public domain and open access titles in HathiTrust have been made available through the Digital Public Library of America. HathiTrust recently added its 5 millionth open e-book volume to its collection, and as a result DPLA now includes over 2.3 million unique e-book titles digitized by HathiTrust’s partner institutions, providing readers with improved ability to find and read these works. Materials added to the HathiTrust collections can be made available to users with print disabilities, and they become part of the corpus of materials available for computational research at the HathiTrust Research Center. By serving as a DPLA content hub, HathiTrust can ensure that open access e-books are immediately discoverable through DPLA.
The basic idea here is to make books that would otherwise be unavailable online due to copyright or other issues and make them available to the public through the DPLA and the HathiTrust.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Revisiting the ethics of photo manipulation or "restoration" Part Four


To what extent should historical photographs be altered, restored, improved or changed? Do the same rules apply to recently made digital photographs? Why is there or why should there be any difference between the preservation of  a digital photo and an older physical one?

Let's look at the photo shown above. Here is a magnified view of the face at 400%. As you can see, there is almost no detail in the image despite the fact at lower magnification, there appears to be some detail.


You should also notice all the "artifacts" in the image. That is the general term for all the dust, scratches, and defects. What if I increase the contrast and the amount of detail using Adobe Lightroom? Here is the modified version.


The photo looks like it contains more detail, but the artifacts are also more prominent. This photo demonstrates an important point, you are, in a sense, stuck with the resolution, detail and content of the original. For me, it is a toss up as to whether the unretouched scan or the altered one is the better of the two images. What if I take out all the artifacts? Here is a preliminary attempt.


Here is my question. Is the mark on her mouth a defect or a scar? Here is the same image after working on it for a while at 400% magnification.


Here is the entire photo again with the alterations.


Now, you can compare the image here with the image at the beginning of this article before I made any changes. Can you see what was done to the image? Would it matter to you to know that this person had a prominent scar on her face? Would you post this altered photo without disclosing the original or at least, putting on a notice that the image had been altered from the original? What if I confined my changes to removing the scratches on the image of the dress?


Depending on the amount of time I wanted to spend, I could "fix" all the defects in the image. Here is a very interesting in-depth discussion of some of the legal issues involved in altering photos.

Parry, Zachariah B., Digital Manipulation and Photographic Evidence: Defrauding the Courts One Thousand Words at a Time, Journal of Law, Technology and Policy, Vol. 2009, p. 175.

Altering historical photographs cuts us loose from reality. Granted any photo is a representation of "reality" at the time the image was made, but once made, the image, in a sense, becomes the only observable form of that incipient reality. We can justify all sorts of changes to the "original" for a whole list of reasons, but the don't we have an overriding interest in having available the most authentic, unchanged historical evidence possible?

That is my ultimate question and unfortunately, I have no easy or comprehensive answer.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2015/04/revisiting-ethics-of-photo-manipulation_21.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2015/04/revisiting-ethics-of-photo-manipulation_19.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2015/04/revisiting-ethics-of-photo-manipulation_19.html