Why Abraham Lincoln is a Genealogy Gem: 150 Years Ago Today

We just celebrated the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s now famous speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, a national

Battery B East Hill cemetary Gettysburg

Battery B, East Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg, Pa, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. Wikimedia Commons Image.

cemetery created at the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Presidents give a lot of speeches–and most are never remembered. But the Gettysburg Address, as it came to be known, was immediately appreciated as something special. The press described it as “a perfect gem…unexpected in its verbal perfection and beauty.”

150 years ago today The Caledonian newspaper reprinted the entire speech. (Don’t stop there: you can read high-resolution digital versions of all five of Lincoln’s handwritten copies of the address and learn all kinds of things about the Address at the Google Cultural Institute.

The Gettysburg Address is part of the genealogy of every American whose ancestors lived through the Civil War. Few were unaffected by the War, whether they lived in the North, South or further West. Certainly its tensions and outcomes shaped the nation’s economy, social mores and more for decades to come.

Life-shaping battles and other events–and responses to them like the Gettysburg Address–appear in newspapers. That’s why I love teaching genealogists about using newspapers, and why I wrote the book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. The “daily news” of the past tells us what people were doing and saying and why.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Second editionIf you’re wondering what the Google Cultural Institute (GCI) is, you’re not alone. It’s a less-heralded but really important part of what Google offers. The GCI is a Google effort launched in 2011 to “make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations.” (From GCI FAQ.) As of mid-2013, over 6 million photos, videos and documents are on the site, including all kinds of international cultural materials. If you haven’t explored the many Google tools helpful to genealogists, I suggest you read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Either of these books will make a great holiday gift to yourself–and your research!

RootsTech 2014 Keynote Speakers Announced

The all-star lineup of keynote speakers has been announced for  RootsTech 2014. They will inspire everyone to discover and share the stories that connect our families-past, present, and future.

Ree Drummond, blogger and author, The Pioneer Woman

Ree is an award-winning blogger and New York Times bestselling author. Her popular website, The Pioneer Woman, was founded in 2006 and showcases her cooking, photography, and stories about country life.

 

Annelies van den Belt, CEO, DC Thompson Family History – Annelies is changing the way digital genealogical records are published and organized. Her company hosts 1.8 billion genealogical records across a family of online brands.

Judy Russell, blogger and professional genealogist, The Legal Genealogist – Judy is a certified genealogist with a law degree who enjoys helping others understand the interplay between genealogy and the law. She blogs and maintains The Legal Genealogist website.

Dr. Spencer Wells, project director, National Geographic Genographic Project – The indiana Jones of genetics, Dr. Wells has traveled the world and captured the DNA of more than a half-million people to tell the story of the human journey.

Todd Hansen, TV host, The Story Trek – Behind every door there is a story. This TV series consists of random door-to-door interviews to discover who lives behind those doors and their real stories.

Stephanie Nielsen, blogger and author, NieNie Dialogues – Stephanie’s story of survival and recovery after a plane crash captured the hearts of the nation. She has inspired others through interviews with Oprah Winfrey and on the Today Show.

RT-Blogger-badge-150sqThe fourth annual RootsTech conference, hosted by FamilySearch, will be held February 6-8, 2014 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to renowned keynote speakers, the conference features over 200 classes, hundreds of booths in a huge Expo Hall, and evening events.

Early bird pricing is available until January 6, 2014. Register today!

NGS 2014 App Available for Conference Attendees

NGS 2014 logoAre you attending the National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference in May in Virginia, USA? You’ll want the new 2014 conference app, now available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and web-enabled devices. (Need a 5-minute video tutorial on using the app? Click the link above, then click on the App Video Tutorial.)

With the NGS 2014 app you’ll be able to receive breaking news, synch your schedule across multiple devices, connect with other attendees, plan which vendors to visit and more. Speaking of the vendor hall, stop by my booth (#618) early, say hello, and pick up my exclusive schedule of quick classes I’ll be offering free at the booth!

I’ll  also be teaching these classes:

  • Google Search Strategies for Common Surnames
  • Tech Tools that Catapult the Newspaper Research Process into the 20th Century
  • Find Living Relatives Like a Private Eye

Looking for more info? Here are some helpful URLS:

Conference blog

Guide for 1st-time NGS attendees  

Up-to-date hotel info

We Dig These New Genealogy Records Gems every Friday!

Every week, we see so many new genealogy records posted online! We highlight major resources in individual blog posts. But sometimes smaller or regional collections catch our eye, too. We’ll round these up for you in a post like this on Fridays.

Watch for the genealogy records that your ancestors might appear in–but also watch for the kinds of records that may be out there for your kin, which might help you break down your family history “brick walls.”

PRISON RECORDS. Kingston, Canada, Penitentiary Inmate Ledgers, 1913-1916, are now available on Flickr. According to GenealogyCanada.blogspot.com, “The ledger includes frontal and profile mug shots, the inmate’s name, alias, age, place of birth, height, weight, complexion, eye colour, hair colour, distinctive physical marks, occupation, sentence, date of sentence, place of sentence, crime committed, and remarks of authorities.”

CEMETERY HEADSTONES. The Canadian Headstone Photo Project is now also searchable at FamilySearch.org. The original site with over a million headstone photos isn’t new. But some people don’t know about the site, and its search interface isn’t as pretty or flexible. So we think it’s nice that FamilySearch is hosting that data, too. According to FamilySearch, the collection is still growing. “This collection will include records from 1790-2013. The records include a name index of headstone inscriptions, courtesy of CanadianHeadstones.com, which is a family history database of records and images from Canada’s cemeteries.”

HISTORICAL PROPERTIES MAP INTERFACE. The state of Delaware in the United States has launched an updated version of its CHRIS (Cultural and Historical Resource Information System) GIS tool. Use this interface to explore houses, districts and National Historic Landmarks in your ancestor’s Delaware neighborhoods. Maybe a place they lived, worked, shopped, worshiped or attended is still standing!

Not sure how to find record sets like these for YOUR family history? Here’s a tip! Use the “numrange” search operator in Google to locate records from a particular time period. Do this by typing the range of years to search (first and last year) into your Google search box, with two periods in between (no spaces). For example, the search “Kingston Penitentiary” 1900..1920 brings up the ledgers mentioned above.

This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.

 

All About GEDCOM

The GEDCOM digital file format is essential to genealogy. My expert guest from FamilySearch explains what a GEDCOM is, how to use it, and the most recent changes. He’ll also answer some of the most common GEDCOM questions. 

Show Notes

If you’ve been watching my videos for a while, then you probably know that I really recommend that you have a complete copy of your family tree on your own computer. But what if you’ve been building your family tree totally online up to this point?

The good news is that you can export your family tree as a GEDCOM file. But what exactly is a GEDCOM file?

Gordon Clarke,  the GEDCOM Developer Relations Manager at the free genealogy website FamilySearch.org joins me to answer that question and provide the latest information about the GEDCOM.

What is a GEDCOM?

(00:54) Lisa: What is a GEDCOM?

(01:14) Gordon: GEDCOM is actually an acronym for:

GEnealogical
Data
COMmunication.

It’s a type of file with specific rules that allows digital family history products to exchange information. It’s been around so long that all the software companies can read and export it.

Say for example that you have a particular family tree program you’ve been working in but there are some features in another application that you like to try out. You want to try it out with a computer file that the program can read. All of the popular genealogy programs allows you to write a GEDCOM file and then you can read it in and review your information and add to it. That is what a GEDCOM is for.

It’s a specific file type that was works with most family history applications. It’s a text-based file, though it has special constraints to it. It was designed to be easily adaptable and compatible with importing and exporting. So, as long as the developers of both products adhere to GEDCOM specifications, you shouldn’t have a trouble downloading from one and uploading to the other.

You can learn more at GEDCOM.info.

What GEDCOM stands for

Lisa: It sounds like each genealogy software database and website probably have their own proprietary file type, right? So, this is one everybody sort of agrees on that can extract the genealogy data set right. Is that right?

Gordon: Right, and there are differences between the proprietary program and GEDCOM. There are some products out there that only support GEDCOM. So that’s their proprietary format.

Why Use a GEDCOM?

(03:45) Lisa: So why should we use one a GEDCOM. When would we find ourselves wishing we had this universal file?

Gordon: Family history is more of a record keeping whether it’s photos and stories and genealogical data. People like to keep it and have control over it. So, GEDCOM is I like the word “personal”. You can personally control it. It’s just a .GED file, so any operating system can handle copying and emailing it. So, for personal control, preservation and sharing of genealogical data. It’s the most universally accepted format.

I would think for your backup purposes because it’s so universal, make sure that the program that you’re using has the ability to save your data in GEDCOM. Then you can decide whether you put it in your thumb drive or removable drive or you put it up in the cloud, you can decide how to preserve it. Think of it more as your personal file over this important information.

(05:31) Lisa: I like that idea. I’m probably not alone in that I once had somebody give me a little floppy disk and it had the whole family tree that this person had been working on. Unfortunately, it was a proprietary file, and it was a program that no longer exists. I’m helpless to be able to use it. So, a GEDCOME can really solve that issue.

Do All Family Tree Programs Support GEDCOM?

(06:00) You kind of touched on this, but I just want to just double check. Can all family tree programs and websites export the GEDCOM? Are you familiar with anything that don’t?

Gordon: I would say all of the popular programs and websites make it possible to import GEDCOM, and most of them allow for exports. There are some exceptions to that rule. If you’re going to spend your time using a program, look to see if it’s GEDCOM compatible.

To help even more so standardize the industry, the software providers commit to implementing the newest version of GEDCOM. Much of that is backward compatible. We presented those that have or will be planning to implement the newest version of GEDCOM at Rootstech. You can search at Rootstech for “GEDCOM” and see the videos of what’s been rolled out and what’s coming.

Who Owns and Controls GEDCOM?

(07:41) Lisa: Is there one particular group or authority or somebody who’s in charge of deciding what the GEDCOM is and how it works? Or is that a role that FamilySearch is playing?

Gordon: It is a role that Family Search has been playing. FamilySearch is the software development, education marketing, support arm of the department called The Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So sometimes because of marketing reasons, people think that we’re different. Family Search is totally run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

From a historical standpoint, the original specification was created and released in 1984. All subsequent versions have been copyrighted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Now, in the last three years, as a like a product manager, I took on the responsibility for working on the new version, version 7 of GEDCOM. But it’s always been an effort of FamilySearch as the outreach arm for the Family History Department.

What we did differently in this last version is we solicited all the key players and software companies. It was much more of a collaborative effort to go through the changes, things to keep, things to just get rid of. It took about two years working with many people. Now the version is what is called a public GitHub repository. As we worked toward version 7, it was to prepare it for a starting point. The decision process is still a steering committee sponsored by FamilySearch, but the input and the communication on changes is open to all software developers. You can learn about all that because it’s hosted at GEDCOM.io. So GEDCOME.info is kind of like the general public, and GEDCOM.io is more for technical software developers.

GEDCOM Features

(10:38) Lisa: What are some of the features of GEDCOM 7? What are some of the things that you consider when you’re continuing to develop the GEDCOM?

Gordon: The process that we worked on was, I think to eliminate ambiguity, there could be different software providers that would interpret the file specifications a little bit differently. We wanted to clean up the specifications so that there would be much more, not 100%, but a much better compatibility between the people that were reading it and writing it. So, we worked very tediously on eliminating the ambiguity.

I would think that the biggest thing is, it’s become more of a storage format of photos, and records and data. Let me read something, “FamilySearch GEDCOM version 7 incorporates the added ability to include photos, and other files when users download a FamilySearch GEDCOM 7 file from a supportive family tree product.”

Your local photos can be bundled in a special file that we called GEDZIP. It’s a GEDCOM file that is a zip package. That means that anybody that unzips that package will get the GEDCOM file and all the external files associated with it and have everything be readable. It’s a packaging technique to put everything together, which really adds to this idea of a personal preservation and sharing. Now you can package everything together and preserve it and share everything that’s important to you with others.

In addition to this zipped packaging capability, notes have been expanded for more versatile use and styling of text. When you add notes, whether it’s a relationship or a location, you can actually stylize those notes now and use bold and italic.

Many tools and sample files were created to help with self-testing. It’s based upon the Apache license, which is more of a technical slant on things, but to software developers, that means it’s an open software license. There’s a public GitHub repository that you go to github.com/familysearch so that you can request and watch ongoing changes in a more of a public environment, though Family Search is still the stewards and has the final say on decisions.

So that’s what’s new. It’s more open to the public. It’s been cleaned up with some important new features.

But backward compatibility for 90% of the GEDCOMs that are out there (and the last one was 5.5.1) is still possible. But it won’t go back to 3.0, 2.0. That’s where that’s where some of the incompatibilities are, is because people are using versions that are 20 years old. And things have changed a lot in the last 25 years. We have a clean, fresh start, and a new community working on continuous improvements. But there won’t be changes because the standards shouldn’t change much. This new version 7 is going to be pretty much the same for a while everybody gets on board.

Do GEDCOMs Include Image Files of Attached Records?

(15:21) Lisa: You mentioned photographs. Would that include image files? Would that include if we downloaded an image of a genealogical record which might be a .JPEG file? Would those come along with the GEDCOM?

Gordon: Yes, absolutely. All the elements of GEDCOM have definition of how to use them. And what’s called the multimedia link, the multimedia link means you can link to local files, JPEGs, PDFs, you know, whatever they are. And if you don’t want to put it all together, you can link to files that are in the cloud, and it will remember where they are. If you package them together in a GEDZIP file, and then you unpackage it, you’ll be able to access the local image files and the local records there.

So, this idea of putting it all together, I mean, bandwidth is much better than it used to be. But still, for people that have hundreds of thousands of images. This is not the best format for that. So they can work out a strategy taking into account the cloud service they use, and which photos they will keep locally on their computer. So, they can keep track of everything, both in the cloud and on their local drive. And that can all be referenced in this new version of GEDCOM.

Is There Data Loss When Exporting a GEDCOM?

(16:59) Lisa: Excellent.

So one of the questions I’ve heard from people is that they are concerned about loss data loss. If they’re importing or exporting, maybe going back and forth, is there a chance that you’re going to lose things or even introduce an error of some type?

Gordon: This is kind of the issue of the work on version 7. One of the biggest issues is not only new features, but to get a new standard to kind of clean the slate. If you get stuff into the new GEDCOM version 7 the likelihood of data losses is greatly reduced. So, we’re encouraging the adoption and use of GEDCOM 7 because it’s less likely to cause any data loss or errors.

Family Search and industry experts have worked for two years to remove ambiguities, simplify the definitions and samples in order to eliminate the possibility of data loss and errors when transferring between programs. In the long run, not only does it include more media, but the whole goal is to improve the consistency, the compatibility and minimize or even eliminate data loss. So, what you will start being seeing is the question “is GEDCOM 7 compatible?” Because GEDCOM 7, when we were working on something that was 20 years old, is going to be more compatible in the future. We have a body to watch out for it. Your data will migrate to the new version without data loss. But looking at down the road, staying with the version 7 or higher will assure a sure better preservation of what you have.

Learn More About GEDCOM at Rootstech

(19:17) Lisa: I think you mentioned or alluded to that there were some announcements at Rootstech 2022.

Gordon: Yes, go to the sessions and type in “GEDCOM” and you will get three opportunities. One is a session called GEDCOM 7 Launched and Rolling Strong. Another session will be FamilySearch GEDCOM 7 What’s Next? And the answer is teamwork.

There’s two pre-recorded videos about the What’s New in GEDCOM 7 and then how the industry’s going to join together in working on it in the future. In in one of the sessions, the first one, there actually is a slide that shows all the companies that have committed to it. But all the majority of the companies have said, both in the cloud and desktop and laptop, and some have said when they’re going to release it. And one company I think, is announcing their release at Rootstech of the new GEDCOM version 7.

Future Updates and Changes to GEDCOM

(20:44) Lisa: That’s great to see. Anything I didn’t ask you or that you think people should really be aware of as they move forwarding and keeping up to date with GEDCOM 7?

Gordon: Again, with a standard, we don’t want to change too much too fast, because they wanted to get solid as a new transfer format.

I think the big areas that we’re working on for future versions is related quite a bit to internationalization. There are probably 20 different calendaring systems that are different than what we do in the U.S. To be able to respect those different calendars and to understand the translation between calendars is a big part of internationalizing GEDCOM.

The other part related to that is that there are some places in the world where how they define relationships between people is not typical to either the US or Western Europe. And so we are working on major upgrades and encourage people to come join with us. With naming conventions we may think given name, surname, but in reality, there’s other relationships that get into the name. If we even go to Africa their name is the first name may go back 10 generations, so their name is a memorization of all those names. So, improving on names is an important effort, the structure and relationships.

Another improvement is places. We think hierarchal and certain jurisdictions, but over time, and in different areas of the world, how you organize places is different. We need to address that in the GEDCOM specification.

Sources and Citations need to be upgraded for the genealogical community. And so, we certainly invite not only software developers, but genealogists to join our effort to improve sources and citations.

GEDCOM Hypothesis

One thing I’m really excited about is that we have a team that’s been working a year, and they’re probably working on it another year or two, on what we call hypothesis. This is so that you can share information without claiming it as a conclusion, and keep it separate from a conclusion. This encourages collaboration. So instead of arguing about I’m right, you’re wrong, we call it a hypothesis. Then we can have a discussion until there’s enough sources to prove it. This Hypothesis module I think is going to be really exciting. But that won’t be for a couple years or so until we actually release it.

Lisa: I think that’s a terrific idea because so often we are just battling with ourselves over what we think the answer is, and we want to track it while we’re doing it.

I’m curious: sometimes we go to a website, and you have to pick what language you speak. Perhaps if you’re searching for videos on YouTube you might say English. Is this something being considered? Is the goal no matter what that it’s only one type of file that serves every country or was there a consideration that you could select your country and then the GEDCOM would support your calendar and your geographic areas. I’m sure that was a discussion.

Gordon: Oh, absolutely. And, but what you’re talking about, just to be clear, is the specification to give all of the options and more to the software developer. The software developer can decide the language of the interface, and many of them are already doing this. So the actual presentation, if it’s Norwegian, or Danish, or whatever, it’s different according to the language that you place. What we’re looking according to your language of choice is that the orientations are names, relationships, and places jurisdictions, will be easy for the software developer to switch to by just changing that.

When we look at an international – how people look at information – it may be a different lens that they look through. So having the ability to give the software developers out of our future specs, to switch their interface, and switch around because they might be working in one part of the country because of their heritage, and then they might work in another and to be switched between it and to still have the data be the same, regardless of what national lens they’re looking through.

Lisa: It’s amazing that one little package contains so much and so much flexibility. That’s really terrific.

The Team Working on GEDCOM 7

(26:52) Gordon: I won’t drop names but in my immediate steering committee, that we meet with weekly, not only do I have three representations from within FamilySearch, but from the community, I like to call them doctors, they are doctors, they have their PhDs in computer science. Some are genealogists, they have their peers, one is even a linguistic professor. Another is an actual legal professional. It’s been wonderful to work with such experts, really, that are reasonable, and want to make things easy for the software developer. So, it’s quite a dilemma, instead of just making it right in the specification, but we’ve got to make it right and make it easier for the software developers to implement it. So that’s my thanks to all the people I’ve been able to work with.

GEDCOM Resources

(28:19) Lisa: Visit GEDCOM.io and GEDCOM.info.

Are they able to offer any volunteering opportunities? Do you need the help of people who are doing genealogy?

Gordon: Oh yes, you can volunteer in lots of different ways at GEDCOM.io.

Lisa: Thank you so much for taking time to explain GEDCOM.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members. (Learn more and join Premium Membership here.)

 

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