In the old days, genealogists have file cabinets and boxes bulging with notes, photocopies, and other paper. Our bookshelves were crammed so full of books there was no available space. They usually overflowed onto the floor nearby. As twenty-first century genealogists, our files are no longer just paper. Nor are they just limited to our computers. Our iPads (or other tablets), mobile phones, and other electronic devices are bulging with files and applications. Music, movies, e-books, and more are crammed into every available memory space or the cloud. Last year, consumers spent $4.5 billion on these materials.
Unfortunately, as in many instances, the law is lagging far behind reality. A recent article by Katy Steinmetz in Time magazine brought this issue to light. In “From Here to E-ternity: What Happens to Your Virtual Things When You’re Gone?” (181 , no. 5: 54–55, available online to subscribers at www.Time.com), Steinmetz discusses the current status of the law surrounding your digital assets (the electronic books, movies, music, software, etc., that you purchased in your lifetime).
In times past, the things were much easier. You bought tangible items: books, record albums, CDs, videotapes, DVDs, etc.). At your death you are free to dispose of these items in any way you like. You can donate them, leave them to love ones, have them sold, or throw them in the trash. In today’s digital world, however, things are not that cut and dried.
Digital assets are not as easily distributed. Part of the problem is the Cloud. As more and more of these items live in the cloud, it gets more difficult. Laws have not kept up with this radical new concept, and you (and your heirs) can be in for a rude awakening.
25% of books sold in America today are e-books. Think of how many you have purchased for your genealogical research. The problem is that many of these are actually licensed, not sold to you as they were in the past. Because they are licensed, they are in a grey area in terms of whether they can be transferred to someone else after your death.
Apple’s iTunes has billions of dollars in sales every year. Thousands of music recordings, television shows, movies, and more are downloaded every day. Apple, however, has no policy on whether your iTunes collection can be willed or transferred to someone else.
Flickr is one of the largest photo sharing sites around, with more than 6 billion pictures uploaded to the site so far. The company is now owned by Yahoo, whose policy is that if you leave written consent and your password, your materials can be transferred to your survivors. In the absence of those, however, your heirs can only request that the account and its contents be permanently deleted.
Vudu is another seller of movies and television shows, as well as converting DVDs to digital movies. The company’s official policy at the moment does not allow any of your content to be transferred to your heirs.
This is a complex and changing area. You should check with your attorney about what you can do with your digital assets, and how you can best preserve them and leave them for your heirs.
Almost a half-century ago, the Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry, created what is arguably the most successful series in the history of television, Star Trek. While not initially well-received, it went on to produce a cartoon series, four more live-action series, and eleven motion pictures, with a twelfth due out in just a few weeks. Much of what was considered “science fiction” at the time has turned into science fact. Perhaps nothing is so pervasive, however, as the mobile phone.
The characters on Star Trek had hand-held devices that let them stay in touch with each other and their ship, called “communicators.” Communicators fit in the palm of the hand, and were worn hanging off a belt. The speaker feature allowed several people to hear the conversation at the same time.
Forty years ago today (and four years after the original series was cancelled), Motorola researcher Martin Cooper used handheld mobile equipment to call Joel S. Engle at Bell Laboratories. While mobile technology had been around since the 1940s, it was limited to automobiles because the equipment was so large. It took another twenty years after that 1973 call for them to be commonly used by the public. While part of me sometimes longs for the simpler days, as a genealogist I don’t think I’d ever want to go back.
Initially, their use as communication devices was wonderful. We were able to stay in touch with each other more easily. At crowded genealogy conferences, we could more easily find our friends. Then came SMS messaging, and we could stay in touch via text messages instead of just orally. Next, companies started adding cameras to their phones. These first generations of phones were dominated by a clamshell design — remarkably similar to the design of Star Trek’s Communicators. One had to restrain oneself from whipping it out, flipping it open and saying “Kirk to Enterprise, Come in Enterprise.”
A revolution occurred in 2007, however, when Apple released the first iPhone. Over the past six years the smartphone revolution has occurred. Our phones now do so much beyond just staying in touch with each other. Not only can take pictures with our phones, we can edit them, manipulate them, geo-tag them, store them, share them, and more. We can access our complete genealogy databases on them. We can take notes on them. We can read and write to word-processing documents. We can send and receive email as well as text messages. We can even use the cameras as scanners for documents and images. No need to worry about running out of quarters for the photocopy machine anymore. And there are more applications than one can count to do so many exciting things for us.
So thank you Gene and Star Trek for your forward-thinking vision. We couldn’t do our research as efficiently today if it weren’t for our mobile phones. Now about that single computer database that has the entire human race lineage-linked with full sources that meet the genealogical proof standard. . .
As someone who grew up in suburban New England, I was surrounded by trees. As a teenager I lived in an eighteenth-century farmhouse with a thick set of woods around it. I often went for walks, down by the stonewalls and near the pond that served the house. I saw many different shapes and sizes of trees, but I’d never heard of Indian Marker Trees until recently.
This practice started centuries ago, long before Europeans had arrived in North America. Native Americans understood that trees did not grow evenly. They also knew that young trees could easily be manipulated, and, once transformed, trees maintained the change in shape as they continued to grow. Because they were rooted, it was difficult for them to be removed.
They employed this knowledge to use trees as markers. They would take young saplings and bend them over. Depending on where they lived, they might use a rock or stake to hold the sapling down or it might be tied town with bark, rawhide, or a strong vine. The sapling would be tied down in a direction parallel to the trail. Marker trees could be close together or a distance apart. The more dense the forest, the more markers were needed. Less dense areas allowed for greater visibility, thus necessitating fewer markers.
Once bent, the sapling would stop growing normally. What was originally top of the trunk would waste away, as would branches on the new underside. Branches on the top would grow vertically. Studies of the growth rings on marker trees have shown that the tree’s development was retarded until these vertical branches started growing.
Many different types of trees were used for markers. The practice was limited, however, to deciduous trees (such as oak and hickory). Coniferous trees (like pine) are not as pliable, and were not used. Because of this, few marker trees are found in high altitudes where coniferous trees profligate.
I found an interesting article about Indian marker Trees in Scientific Monthly (Raymond E. Janssen, “Living Guide-Posts of the Past” 53 : 22–9). The Dallas Historic Tree Coalition also had a two-part story about these trees on the DHTC website (Part I, Part II).
Perhaps you might have seen these trees in your travels. Learn more about them before your next trip, so you can tell the difference between a naturally-deformed tree and an Indian marker tree. You may see some on your next hike.
Randy Seaver had an interesting case study in Geneamusings this week. He recently made a great discovery on FindAGrave, locating the burial of Samuel and Mary Ann (Underhill) Vaux. The FindAGrave information included full birth and death dates for both individuals in a Kansas cemetery. Unfortunately, no image of the gravestone was available. Checking the information against burial cards from that cemetery on microfilm at the Family History Library, he discovered a conflict in the death information for Samuel. Get more about this tory in How Can I Resolve This Evidence Conflict?
In his inaugural speech in January, President Obama mentioned the three great civil rights struggles of the past century and a half in his reference to Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. The Library of Congress Blog recently posted about the Women’s Suffrage movement and the 5,000 women who marched on Washington, D.C., a century ago. The post also discusses a number of items in the LOC collections that can help researchers find out more information about the Suffragettes. Discover these resources in I Love A Parade.
The discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a car park in England was published around the world. This has lead to another disinterment. This one, however, is likely to prove that it is not the person it is purported to be. Ongoing rumors state that Alfred the Great is buried in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew at Winchester. There are numerous differences between the two cases, and it is highly doubtful that the remains actually are those of Alfred, but the remains were removed for public safety reasons. You can read more on The History Blog.
Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, had an interesting post about copyright this week. She discusses the implications of the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons case by the Supreme Court last week. The decision dealt with people buying books in foreign markets then returning to the United States and selling them in the higher-priced market here. Learn more about what is and isn’t legal in Copyright and The First Sale Rule.
Damian De Virgillio writes the Knowing Nonno blog, documented his genealogical research. His Italian paternal grandfather disappeared in late January 1944. His grandmother searched everywhere, even attempting to enlist the Vatican in discovering what happened to her husband, but it would be three decades before even a vague clue turned up. Decades later he picked up the search and made an amazing discovery about a shipwreck that took the lives of more than 4,100 people, including his grandfather. You can read the full story in For the Lost of February ’44, Part I, Part II, and Part III.
I just did my civic duty today by filling out my census form. Quickly, easily, painlessly, and early. Now I know what many of you are thinking. “Early? He’s early by seven years!” But I’m not talking about the decennial census of the United States.
Each year the city takes a census of the residents. It is required to do so by Massachusetts law. Every resident aged 17 years or more must be counted. Census day is January 1 of each year.
The purpose of the census is twofold. First, it acts as a verification of registered voters in the city. Those who do not respond are removed from the rolls of active voters, and eventually their voter registrations are revoked. The results of the census are also used in municipal planning.
Each year about this a simple, one-page form is mailed to every address in the city. The form includes the ward and precinct numbers for the address, and lists the names and information of everyone who appeared at that address the previous year. Among the questions it asks:
- Apartment Number
- Name (of each resident age 17 or older)
- Date of Birth
- Voter (party affiliation, Republican, Democrat, or Unafilliated)
- Address Last Year (if different from this year)
Another interesting question, asked at the bottom, is the number of dogs in the household.
The city makes it so easy to meet this census obligation, you would really need to work hard to not meet it. You can return the form in the enclosed postage-paid mailer. You can go to the city website and fill it out online. Or, you can even call a special telephone number at city hall during regular business hours and they will take your information over the phone.
These residents listing are often accessible to the public. Sometimes they ae held at the city clerk’s office, and sometimes they are at the elections/voter registration office. They can act as a wonderful, modern-day family record.
One of the great pleasure of being at the RootsTech conference last week (or any conference) is being able to talk to our Mocavo community members in person and hear about their research successes.
The Association of Professional Genealogists was also meeting in Salt Lake City this week. The annual Professional Management Conference took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, drawing professionals from around the U.S. and Canada, as well as New Zealand, Israel, and the U.K.
One of my favorite stories came from my good friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective. Maureen is working on a new project based on her two books, The Last Muster (volumes I and II). The books are about photographic images of Revolutionary War images. She has often related stories to me about how she has used Mocavo to research these ancestors, and she told me an interesting new one:
Looking for new information on Eleazer Blake of Rindge, New Hampshire, I turned to Mocavo. Hits included 25 hits. On the right hand side of the page a user can select whether or not the match is the person they seek. Two documents and twenty-three web hits turned up for Blake including a 1906 Annual Report for the Town of Rindge. Among the details in the Librarian’s report is a paragraph about Blake memorabilia in the museum-his portrait, his musket and sword as well as personal papers. Many of these items can be viewed in the trailer for Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film.
This is a great illustration of how you can use Mocavo not just to find birth, marriage, and death information, but also how to go beyond and add more meat to the bones of your family history. Imagine finding a portrait of one of your ancestors that you didn’t even know existed! To check out Mocavo for yourself, click here.
I wrote about Revolutionary Voices a few weeks ago, discussing the film being co-produced by Maureen and award winning documentary filmmakers Verissima Productions. Their Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds for the production is going on through April 10. To view their informational blog or contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, visit www.lastmusterfilm.com
Well, RootsTech 2013 is now in the history books. A very exhausted Mocavo team is back home and back to work. It was such a busy few days. Not only did we have the team working in the booth demonstrating the site, we had people there scanning documents for our community members. And the development team was there on Friday to attend classes, network with their peers in the field, and meet with many of you, the Mocavo Community.
The thousands of attendees started arriving at the beginning of the week. Seats at the Family History Library were going much more quickly than they had the previous week. I, unfortunately, was felled by a bug early in the week, but it didn’t stop the fun. The Association of Professional Genealogists held their annual Professional Management Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Outstanding presentations by such distinguished genealogists as Thomas Jones and Judy G. Russell were among the highlights.
On Wednesday my Mocavo colleagues arrived and we got to work setting up our booth space. By Thursday morning, staff could barely hold back the throng of individuals at the doors until the official opening time. Mocavo was offering free scanning to our community members who wanted to bring their items to the booth. We saw some fascinating material come through. If you couldn’t make it and would like to have your materials scanned for free, check out the instructions for getting your material to us.
So many stopped by the booth so that we could answer their questions about Mocavo. Many basic users were especially curious about how Mocavo Plus works. If you were one of those who didn’t have the chance to get through the crowd, or if you want to know more about Mocavo Plus, you can find out more by taking this little tour. And if you have any more questions, please let us know. You can email us and a member of our support team will get in touch with you to answer your questions.
RootsTech 2013 was a great few days with many genealogists as well as developers and others. It provided a unique opportunity to talk to some of the people doing the behind the scenes work at many of your favorite companies. Our development team attended and got the chance to network with many of their peers. You can tell many of the developers. How many toned, twenty-something geeks do you see at NGS or FGS?
If you didn’t get the chance to join us at RootsTech 2013, I hope you will consider joining Mocavo in Salt Lake City for next year’s conference. We love the opportunity to interact with you in person.
Genealogists never know what they are going to find. Most of you have probably found a surprise or two when researching your family. On occasion, you can even find that your family has a link to something historical. This was the experience of Nathaniel Sharpe.
Bathgate, North Dakota, is a town of approximately fifty people up near the Canadian border. Twenty-two year old Nathaniel Sharpe, a Bathgate resident, has already been researching his family for a decade. Fortunately for Nathaniel, he is researching in the digital age, where many resources are available online.
Nathaniel is a descendant of John W. Putman of Batavia, New York. Nathaniel was searching online newspaper databases to find information about Putman. The Republican Advocate in Batavia provided him with some success, but not of the kind he was seeking.
Putman’s name appeared in the issue of March 8, 1836. It was in a blacklist of names compiled by local merchants. These individuals had left town without settling their debts. Next to Putman’s name was the word “skallewagg.” Because of the interesting spelling, Sharpe was not certain whether it was a version of the modern “scalawag,” or if the word meant something else entirely in that time period.
Finding the answer to that question set him off on an entirely new quest. He searched for the term, and came across a recent piece by an etymologist on the term scalawag that contained interesting information indeed. The earliest known use of the term was in John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, published in 1848. Sharpe’s discovery predated this by a dozen years.
Bartlett’s definition of the word was “a favorite epithet in western New York for a mean fellow; a scapegrace.” After the Civil War, the term was used frequently to denote a white Southerner who supported Reconstruction. Etymologists believe that the term is of Scottish origin.
Sharpe joined the mailing list for the American Dialect Society, impressing etymologists with his findings. No less than Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations called Sharpe’s work “outstanding research.”
It is heartening to see the work of a genealogist, and one so young at that, being respected by traditional historical and etymological scholars. Ben Zimmer wrote an article telling the story Nathaniel’s search and discovery in the Boston Globe. The entire tale is quite interesting.
Understanding the law of the time and place in which you are researching will help you tremendously as a genealogist. Rebecca Probert is a genealogist. She is also Professor of Law at Warwick University in England. She is the leading authority on the history of marriage laws in England and Wales. After writing a number of scholarly works on the subject, she realized that a book on the subject written specifically for a genealogical perspective would be very helpful for researchers. Last year she published Marriage Law for Genealogists: the Definitive Guide.
I picked up a copy at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! a few weeks ago. The modest-sized book (156 pages), it is jam-packed with incredibly important information. Now, there are many research guides for genealogists that touch on marriage records, so why do we need this new book?
Probert started having doubts about the accuracy of many of the claims about informal marriage arrangements and other tales of marriage and family. Ten years ago she decided to start researching to see what she could discover. She poured through statutes and case law, as well as literature. Like any good genealogist, she then dove in headfirst, examining records across the entirety of England and Wales, researching families and analyzing data.
The results of her research “have overturned many long-standing myths about how our ancestors were married. The simple but very clear findings are that the overwhelming majority of couples married in the Church of England, cohabitation was vanishingly rare, and informal marriage practices non-existent. This disproves man of the claims of a previous generation of historians . . . on which guidebooks for family historians have relied.” (p. 14)
Over the course of the past decade, she has published numerous academic papers on her findings. “But this book has a far broader remit than simply distilling my earlier research. The need for a completely new book on marriage law for family historians became apparent when I looked at the existing resources. Not to put to fine a point on it, I was consistently disappointed (and occasionally flabbergasted) by the inaccuracy of existing accounts of marriage law: even the best genealogy books and websites repeat basic errors of law; mistakes are unintentionally compounded as one author repeats and then builds upon another’s conclusions without consulting the primary sources; inevitably, minor misconceptions have snowballed into outright falsehoods, leading the poor genealogists who rely on them into a thoroughly erroneous understanding of their ancestors’ marital customs and their beliefs and motivations in this most personal and universal of areas.” (p. 14)
Probert conducted a great deal of her research via working with original records and microfilm, but it was the modern-day digital databases and record images that allowed her to easily conduct a massive study that was untenable for earlier generations of historians. I had the please of conversing with her for a bit at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London a few weeks ago. She clearly knows her subject well, and is very passionate about it.