How to Use Repositories
By D. E. Lee
- Use of the Internet
- What are Searches?
- What are Indexes?
- What are Repositories?
- Databases versus Supporting information
- PC software versus Web browsers
Use of the Internet
To become actively involved in Family History requires that you Learn by Doing. Fifty percent of learning comes from theory (study), and the other 50% comes from practice. Without getting actively involved in the practice side of it, you can spend literally years in study and not get very far. Start doing now and let your need for information drive the training you seek.
In previous articles, I have discussed important activities involved in starting your journey in Family History. One of them was to ask your relatives. Without collecting the information readily available to you from your relatives, it is much more difficult to extend your research due to privacy laws on living people. Once you get back far enough, more records will be available to you. If you were lucky, you might even hit a gold mine of information from a relative involved in Family History.
Now you have collected information from relatives close to you, you can begin collecting information that is less directly related to you. Whether or not you can connect a little or a lot from those around you, the internet has been a real boon to all genealogists worldwide. Before, you would have to physically go to locations of interest. Now millions of records have been put in databases that are visible to the internet.
After decades of microfilming old records, we can take digital pictures of old records and microfilm slides and extract the information needed to help others locate the records they need to verify the existence of their ancestors. For a broader discussion of the process of “Indexing,” or making the data available to the internet, see http://www.seekerz.net/index/.
What are Searches?
Most of us understand what searches are these days. We use them to search for information on our desktops, on the internet, in the library, etc. Searches are nothing more than a method, automated or manual, to look for information desired.
To initiate a search, we must define what it is we are searching for. Then we must format the search criteria in a manner that can be understood and acted upon. If we cannot explain our search’s objective in a way that can be understood by an automated tool, or other people, or even ourselves, what we get back from the search will not fulfill the objective of the search. I’m sure most of us have tried to issue a search on the internet, only to find that what we’re given back in response is not what we’d hoped for. We then have to rephrase the search criteria before we can get back better results.
Searches only work if they can find the information we are working for. The search will go against data in the database being searched, and if the data has not been entered in the database or repository, the search is in vain.
What are Indexes?
For searches to work quickly and efficiently, an index needs to be built. An example of an index is a library’s card catalog. The only difference between it and computer indices is that one is manual, and the other is automated. A card catalog uses one bit of information to point to another. For example, it may take a book title and point to the book’s location within the library using the Dewey Decimal system. The Dewey Decimal system is nothing more than a way to group books with similar topics to make them easier to find.
In a computer, the same thing happens. An index is built using a bit of data such as a book title or author name, etc, and the index points to the book’s location in the database. If an index has not yet been built, the query will take much longer to find the book, as it has to read through all possible books in the database to find it.
Indices get more complex as the volume of things they are searching for increases. But even with increased overhead, they beat having to search through the whole database hands down.
What are Repositories?
Indexes are built on data repositories. For libraries, the data repository is the physical library with all the books in it. For online repositories, they are computer databases that contain data you are looking for. Repositories can have data that has been indexed and data that has not yet been indexed. Libraries are continually purchasing books, and some of them have not yet been put in the card catalog, while most others have. The same is true of online databases. Several large companies are acquiring holdings of digitized records all the time, but many of them have not yet had indexes built on top of them. When they are finally digitized and indexed, they can be used by the general public and be extremely helpful in Family History searches.
Many online databases that contain historical documents that can help in your search of your ancestors. The following are only a few of them:
|Danish Demographic Database||https://www.ddd.dda.dk/ddd_en.htm|
|Eastern European Family History Studies||https://feefhs.org/|
|Find a Grave||https://www.findagrave.com/|
|Library and Archives Canada||https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx|
|Library of Congress||https://www.loc.gov/|
|The National Archives of Ireland||https://genealogy.nationalarchives.ie/|
|US Census Bureau||https://www.census.gov/topics/population/genealogy.html|
|Midwest Genealogical Center||https://www.mymcpl.org/genealogy|
|Serbian Genealogical Society||https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Genealogical_Society|
|US Passenger Lists||https://www.researchguides.net/immigration/index.htm|
Databases versus Supporting information
Databases are places where computers store data. The data they store can be physically in many different formats depending on the Database Engine being used. In the context of Genealogy searches, there are different kinds of data we will be searching for. The first are databases that store document information. They have images and text regarding documents that can prove the authenticity of an event. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are good examples of this. The second kind of database is used for educational information. They store information that can be used for training purposes. For example, Seekerz.net, Penterist.com, Amazon.com, and others market many educational books. And the third is Metadata or data about data. For example WordCat stores information about where to locate data repositories wordwide, and Cyndi’s List contains web links to hundreds of Family History websites.
If you are mainly looking for a service that will help you locate documents to prove an event happened, you’ll want to use a record repository. If you want to get up to speed on Family History, you can use an educational repository. And if you want to locate specific repositories in a particular part of the world, you may want to look at the metadata repositories. The choice is yours.
PC software versus Web browsers
When you start your research, it is a good idea to get a copy of a personal computer utility to store your information. Even if you have already decided to use FamilySearch or a paid subscription to an online database, it is a good idea to keep your work separate from any web database. This way, you know what work you have done, versus what others have done, especially if dealing with a corroborative database. For example, FamilySearch is a corroborative project and anyone can contribute to it worldwide, but on the flip side, anyone can make mistakes on it too. There have been times when a long line of ancestors has been cut off invalidly by someone that made a mistake and which had to be restored.
Other web repositories like Ancestry.com offer private Family Trees, which others cannot update, but allow you to give permissions for others to view. However, even this can give you problems if something happens to their data or the company goes out of business or is purchased by another company. It is a good idea to have your copy of your data on your computer and back it up. This way, if something happens to the company you are using and is outside of both their and your control, you still have your data.
Some of the newer PC utilities can synch the data you have on your personal computer with data from a web database repository. This makes it easier to update since the logic can update multiple changes far quicker than you can update them manually. Just be sure that you are not changing something on the web repository that may trash another person’s work.
The following are some of the most popular PC utilities. Be sure you get a current version of the software. Just because someone markets it does not mean it’s the most recent version.
- Agelong Tree
- Ancestral Quest
- Brother’s Keeper
- Family Historian
- Family Tree Builder
- Family Tree Maker
- Family Tree
- GEDitCOM II
- Genbox Family History
- Kith and Kin
- Legacy Family Tree
- The Master Genealogist
We don’t usually think of books being repositories these days, but they do have many of the characteristics of repositories. They have indexes to help you discover the organization of the book. They have the material to cover. And they have Glossaries and Appendices at the back, which can point to particular terms used within the book.
Family History books can be grouped into three or more different categories:
- Organize. These books give hints and aids on organizing your research so it is easy to find things, even after an extended period .
- Preserve. These books educate on how to create and preserve books and other Family History materials. Many of them help with the creation of personal histories and autobiographies.
- Research. These books help in researching information and are help research many different areas of the world. Other countries have different kinds of materials available and different customs, rules, and regulations to deal with. It is a good idea to see if you can get some help from them before delving into them without knowing where the data is or what you are allowed to access.
If you are looking for educational books on Family History, a good starting place is www.seekerz.net > shopping > books.
Another place you can find information to help in Family History are courses that offer training. The distinction between books and courses is that a book is mainly used for self-training, where courses involve interactions with Teachers and other Students. Sometimes the thing that is lacking is another person to explain the things we don’t understand from the reading material. Authors make assumptions about the audience’s knowledge and try to talk to that audience on a level they’ll understand. But, not all the people in that audience have the same experience and or knowledge. And some people will have knowledge in one area while others will have knowledge in another in the material covered.
A course’s strength is that the student can ask questions and get answers back quickly. Even if the student buys a book, they may also want to take the course to have the extra support they need to kick start the learning process. Mentoring can be a powerful thing.
We’ve talked about many different repositories, what they are used for, and some things to be careful about. I’ve mentioned many online and personal data repositories currently available on the market. I suggest you shop around for the products you feel will best satisfy your objectives, then buy a PC utility, a book, a subscription to an on-line repository (or get a free one) and start entering your Family Tree. As you work with the repositories and materials you have, you will gain experience and ability, and if you keep at it, it will soon start to become exciting, and you’ll be on your way to becoming proficient.
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