Monthly Archives: April 2006

Panel Vows to Fight For Access to Records (The AP Gets It)

An article from Elizabeth M. Gillespie, for the Associated Press, Panel vows to fight for access to records, gets into an issue that is going to be cropping up a lot more as time goes by, access to public records. The article is about the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, and their fight to keep access open.

She mentions something very interesting (at least coming from a genealogist’ perspective), about how organizations like this, as well as the AP itself, could team up with genealogists. Excerpt from the article:

Newspapers need to find more allies in their fight to get access to public records, since government agencies keep coming up with more ways to keep them secret, a panel of news executives said Thursday.

Decisions to classify government documents rose to roughly 15 million in 2004, the most recent year available, up from about 8 million in 2001, said Andrew Alexander, Cox Newspapers’ bureau chief in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee.

At the same time, the government has been denying a growing number of public records requests.

“The Freedom of Information Act seems to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis,” Alexander said.

He suggested the battle could become less daunting if newspapers can forge stronger ties with non-journalist groups that value open access to public records and meetings.

Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, suggested partnering with genealogy experts, who rely heavily on public records laws to mine historical data.

“We don’t talk to that group of people very well, and they could be very powerful allies,” said Carroll, one of four executives who spoke on a freedom-of-information panel at the ASNE annual meeting.

Last month, Carroll noted, the AP found in a 50-state survey that 616 new laws restricting access to government records, databases, meetings and other public information had been passed since Sept. 11, 2001, while 284 laws had loosened access.

In plenty of cases, panelists noted, governments shut down access to records without any apparent legal backing.

Sounds like Kathleen Carroll (as mentioned above, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press) understands the genealogists have a very vested interest in keeping access to records open, and could be a powerful friend – there are a lot of genealogists in the US and elsewhere, and many are older, a demographic which votes quite a bit more than younger folks.

You can read the full article at:
The Twin Cities/Pioneer Express (MN)
The Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth)
DuluthNewsTribune.com

Yahoo’s Babel Fish

Yahoo has updated their translation site – babelfish.yahoo.com. If you need webpages or snippets of text translated, such as historical documents or newspaper articles, you can paste them in (either the URL or the 150 words of text) and it’ll spit out the translated text.

Very handy when working with international records.

Update: From a genealogical perspective, Yahoo inherited Babel Fish from Overture, who bought it with AltaVista. This is the actual, official launch under the Yahoo brand.

It’s All Relative: Getting Down To It

Schelly Talalay Dardashti has a very interesting article, It’s All Relative: Getting down to it in Ynetnews, if you happen to be into Jewish genealogy. It’s about an upcoming Jewish genealogy conference that is huge.

Get this:

International Jewish family history researchers are signing up for an intense Jewish genealogy adventure offering more than 180 program sessions in 23 topic categories, more than 30 meetings and luncheons of special interest groups, and networking with global colleagues.

The 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy , set for August 13-18 in New York City, will offer conference speakers from 18 countries and an extensive computer education center sponsored by Ancestry.com.

180 different sessions. I don’t have any Jewish relatives, but I want to go anyways.

MyFamily.com (Inc.) Acquires Encounter Technologies

In yet another acquisition, MyFamily.com, Inc., (owners of Ancestry.com) has acquired another company to help expand their services. They’ve acquired Encounter Technologies, which came out of the Georgia Institute of Technology Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).

According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, Encounter Technologies designs, develops and deploys innovative communications applications that help people stay in touch on the web. Unique solutions include SnapGenie multimedia photo albums and visual phone conferencing services.

From the Press Release:

The acquisition of Encounter Technologies is another strategic step MyFamily is making to grow their team and develop technology that will give families innovative ways to connect and share on the Web.

Other strategic steps include a new generation of executive talent that Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of MyFamily.com, Inc. has attracted to pioneer the next wave of the company’s growth and innovation. Michael Graff, a former Microsoft executive, is chief among them and recently joined MyFamily as a Senior Vice President and General Manager of the MyFamily business unit. With the acquisition of Encounter Technologies, MyFamily appoints Encounter Technologies’ founder Hoyt Prisock to Vice President of Strategy and Business Development of the MyFamily web service.

Some of it sounds like they are trying to apply the Web 2.0 stuff to genealogy. I’ve heard lots of rumblings about new “portal” sites for families that have genealogy services built into them, but as far as I’m concerned, all you need is something like Drupal, or phpBB.com combined with PhpGedView or The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding.

Out of the four applications I listed above, Drupal is a content management system (CMS) – basically you could have discussion forums, a recipes area (those seem to be popular with family websites), a photo gallery, etc., email/mailing lists, all out of one system, phpBB is a discussion forum, and PhpGedView and TNG are actually full-blown online genealogy applications. Out of those four, only TNG charges (and it’s well worth the money as far as I’m concerned, I’ve been happy over the past few years, as have many others).

You could literally host your own family site, completly under your control, and with the amount of privacy you want (with all of the concerns about identity theft, children, etc.), for a very cheap price – $5 or so a month for hosting, plus another $10 every year for a domain name.

That’s just me.

History is in Your Genes

Joseph Hall has an article, History is in your genes, about the Genographic Project – the ambitious 5-year plan to use DNA and map out global migration patterns, that is being sponsored/handled by National Geographic and IBM.

Excerpts from the article:

As part of the worldwide Genographic Project — the largest-ever attempt to trace genetic ancestries across the globe — Royyuru and his colleagues are trying to map the entire scope of human migration throughout history.

“This is probably the most ambitious and fantastic population genetics study ever attempted,” says Royyuru, who spoke at a Toronto computer conference yesterday about the project, which is sponsored by the National Geographic Society and IBM. “Genetic evidence is the strongest evidence — it’s the history book that we all carry,” he says.

Royyuru says genealogical, anthropological and historical data can currently trace human ancestries back no further than a few thousand years.

“So if you want to infer ancestry and geography going back, let’s say, 40,000 or 50,000 years, genetic evidence is the only evidence you can bank on,” he said in an interview.

I disagree about the genealogy tracking back to a few thousand years, although I’ve ran into people who claim they are descended from this or that Roman emperor or whatever. In my opinion, and this is not meant to offend anybody – unless your ancestors were in one spot for very long lengths of time, and you have direct evidence, perhaps DNA even, anything past 500-700 years gets real dicey. I’m not saying that it can’t be proven or documented, but the evidence can get very slim at that point, especially when you look at all of the wars/upheavals/plagues/etc. over that timespan.

It’s not that I don’t think it can be done, I just think that a lot of people use evidence that wouldn’t hold up too well under scrutiny – basically evidence that wouldn’t be accepted by many genealogy professionals.

But I digress, this is a very interesting project, and it’s already causing some heads to turn – especially when it comes to North American migration patterns (Africa/Europe vs Asia).