Reviving an old history blog

I’ve decided to revive our old family history blog on Blogger.

A couple of years ago I moved everything from there to this blog because there were problems with the Blogger software, which caused a lot of people to move from Blogger to WordPress. I left the old blog there with a link to this one.

Now Blogger has improved, and appears to be stable, so I’ll start using it again.

But there’s not much point in having two identical family history blogs, so I’ll use them for different purposes. WordPress and Blogger have strong points and weak points and one is better for some purposes and the other is better at other things.

So this blog, the WordPress one, I’ll mainly use for the more personal stuff, stories and news of our family and our own family history research. So you will be most likely to find this blog interesting if you are related to us, no matter how distantly. WordPress is better for this kind of thing because it makes it easier to post family photos and give them captions. I’ll also use it as a kind of research log, with news of things we find, and what other members of the family find.

The other blog, the Blogger one, I’ll use for more general stuff — notes and news on genealogical research generally, research resources, local history articles, background pieces, and general historical stuff. It will also include articles on historical method, technique and theory, comments on software for genealogists and family historians and for research generally, and so on. That’s because one of the strengths of Blogger is making links, grabbing stuff from news articles and putting it in a blog post. It also does a much better job of displaying widgets, like the “Recent Readers” from MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog. WordPress often makes a pig’s ear out of it, and sometimes displays the wrong pictures and so on.

The distinction won’t be absolute — I might still post some of our own family history on the other blog, and more general items here, depending on which blogging platform makes it easiest for a particular post.

The blogrolls on each blog will reflect this division as well. Here the links will be mostly to blogs by other family members, with a few more general links. On the other one, we will link to genealogy blogs that deal with the areas we are interested in — southern Africa, the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and also ones that give more general information about genealogical and historical research.

Software for family historians, biographers and others

Dennis Allsopp

Dennis Allsopp (Author of Genota and Genota Forms) was visiting Johannesburg, so I dropped in to see him and we had an interesting chat.

We chatted about software for genealogists and family historians, and three topics in particular:

  1. The need for an event-based database program for genealogists, historians, biographers etc.
  2. Dennis’s own genealogy research programs, Genota and Genota Forms
  3. Old utility programs for which there are no modern equivalents.

As a result, I’ve uploaded a few of the old utilities to the website of the genealogy software forum, in the hope that they may inspire some enterprising hackers to reverse engineer them for modern hardware and software.

There were programs called Nameview and Namedrop that scanned BBS messages for things like surnames of interest, and manipulated those messages to collect them. They worked with Fido Technology Networks, but no one seems to have written an equivalent that works with mailing lists, newsgroups, or web forums.

There were also utility programs that took data from genealogy programs (mainly PAF 2.x) and printed family grtoup sheets on 3×5 or 4×6 cards.

That is FAR more useful than the stupid trick of software developers who tried to make a computer screen look like a card index, which had all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of the cards themselves.

But those utilities were written in DOS, and modern printers don’t work with DOS. So the utilities need to be rewritten to use modern programs and modern hardware.

There was the Tiny Tafel Generator — which not only developed but matched Tiny Tafels. Trouble is, it was written in Turbo Pascal, which doesn’t work on fast machines. You need a slow processor for it to run, under 500 Mhz, I think.

There are a few more there — back in the old days we may have had less than we do now, but very often we could do more with the less we had. So I’m hoping some hackers will have a look at them, and see if they can reverse engineer them to produce new versions.

But the main thing we chatted about was the need for an event-based program to be used as a research tool, not only for genealogists and family historians, but also for general historians, biographers and others. It would differ from lineage-linked genealogy programs in that it would not only include people that were relatives, but friends and acquaintaces, work colleagues, and even enemies. It would be a useful tool for a biographer trying to keep track of  the events in the life of their subject, or for someone writing general history.

The basic outline of the program would look something like this:

Outline for an event-tracking program

Dennis introduced me to a rather nice mind-mapping and concept-mapping program called VUE (Visual Understanding Environment) which drew the above diagram (he has a far better drawing of it), and shows how the various parts of the program would relate to each other.

The main part of the database would be a chronological list of events, and people and organisations assocated with this events. The organisations could be both formal and informal groups — a political party, church, club, school, hospital, business firm, trade union, family or any other human group.

The “people” part would not only be for family members, as one finds in lineage-linked genealogy programs, but for non-related people, like friends, work colleagues, teachers, pupils, godparents, acquaintances and so on. Perhaps it could also be useful in testing theories of six degrees of relationship — that we are only six degrees of relationshop away from knowing everyone else on earth, and that my wife’s boss’s godmother’s cousin’s penfriend’s vet knows me.

One reason for posting this is to try to find out if there are any others who think that and event-tracking and chronology program would be useful, and if so, what you would like it to be able to do.

Using search engines for genealogy and family history

Over the last ten years or so Google has become the most popular web search engine — to much so that “to google” has become synonymous with searching the web. It’s become a generic term.

When Jackie Seaman announced her Growden reunion, I thought I’d do a web search for Growden, and started with Google because Firefox puts it so conveniently in the toolbar. Growden (or Growdon) is one of the less common surnames I’m researching, and we have a web page just for Growdon family researchers. But Google didn’t find it — at least not in the first 17 mages of results.

I tried another search engine, Altavista, and our Growdon page came up on the first page of results.

I tried another search engine, Dogpile, which is an aggregator of results from several different search engines, and our Growdon page was also on the first page of results, but further down.

It seems that Google is definitely not the best search engine for genealogical and family history research. Altavista ( was better by a long way, and its first page of results was far more relevant to genealogy researchers.

The first page of results on Google produced a bunch of generic surname search sites, many of them commercial. This means that they show up on search results for anyone looking for any surname at all. If you try some of them you might find they have no information at all on Growdon (or whatever surname you are looking for), but then invite you to look for other surnames. And quite often, if they do have information, they ask you to pay upfront before you can see it.

Dogpile also came up with quite few of those generic surname sites, but did have more relevant sites on the first page of search results as well.

But Altavista came up with “real” Growdon/Growden sites first — people who were actually interested in Growden family history, and had information or were looking for information, rather than generic surname search sites.

So if you are looking for family history information on the web, don’t just “google” for it — try other search engines as well. You may be pleasantly surprised.


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