Monday, April 25, 2011

Pondering some issues from the Guild Conference

Before I left the Conference, I was given some other Parry information – six certificates from St George’s, in Birmingham, transcribed by Guild members as part of a Marriage Challenge. Certificates are always a welcome addition to my collection, since they help to confirm the links between people. However, over this last year, I stopped submitting entries to the Challenges, since I didn’t have the time to check for mis-transcriptions in the index details, or look for the marriages on the IGI etc., before submission. I almost re-started this week, when there was a message on the forum about the forthcoming Lymington challenge – until I realised that it was actually a repeat and I already have the two marriages from there. Good job I am not quite as disorganised as I sometimes think, and my BMD files were marked up to show those entries as already found.

It’s over a week now since the Guild Conference and organisation and technology are probably the two main issues that have been on my mind since then. John Hanson’s talk, Researching and Recording a large ONS, was based on his work with the Halsted Trust (The Halsted ONS, I have just discovered, has two Parry entries in it :) ) Despite having heard Jeanne Bunting some years ago describe the difficulties caused by the multiple copies of pedigrees and research papers found when the Halsted study was taken over, I still don’t add a date to all my own printed information so that it is clear which is the latest version. This can easily be done by adding a footer to documents, with automatic text fields for either last saved, or last printed etc., so it is one of my goals to do this from now on and also to gradually work through my past files adding them.

Keeping a research log is another suggestion I have often heard but have never yet managed to maintain for long (a book on my desk only works if I am at my desk, a log on the computer only works when the computer is on etc.) I do have a spreadsheet for keeping track of correspondence but what alternative methods do people find successful as a research log? Is there a good piece of software (or a way of better managing the software I already have), I wonder?

Regarding useful websites – such sites often get mentioned on the Forum at a time when I am too busy to extract all the Parry details and, although I have tried to keep a spreadsheet of such sites, so that I can return to them later, I often find myself printing the web page as a reminder instead. But John mentioned taking screenshots or printing to pdf - since I invariable visit the website initially just to check if there are actually any Parrys, that’s a much more efficient system than having to remember the spreadsheet, then find/open it and copy the url across. (It might help avoid the mounting paper piles, as well!)

Another tip, having all the ONS data on an external hard-drive (and backing it up to a pc/laptop), seems a reversal of the normal way of doing things but actually could be more sensible. Having been developing the Parry study over a period of time, which has involved several computers (and other things stored on the computers), I’ve run into problems with filing systems and synchronisation between a pc and a laptop. So having the study data as a totally separate entity on an external drive could be a better solution for the future. I was planning to re-organise the data anyway, with a view to it being more understandable if someone needed to take it over, so this could be a good opportunity to pull things together into a totally new format.

Dick Eastman gave me more things to consider, in his talk on the Family History World in 10 years time:
What about archiving emails? Few of us write letters in the way that people did in the past, so how else will our descendants experience that thrill of reading something personal from us?
That issue is relatively easy to solve (both my online and computer based mail systems seem to have the facility to archive messages) but this next topic is more of a challenge:
As society moves towards being “online, everywhere, all the time”, working practices are changing and shared data is being transferred so that it is no longer stored on our computers, but is held on servers “out there”, in the “cloud”.

How will this impact on my methods for carrying out the study?

Many of us who began our family history during the last ten years or so would probably struggle to deal with a totally paper based ONS – and I won’t finish the Parry study in my lifetime, so the methods used need to remain relevant to the upcoming styles of newer researchers. At the moment, my website is static and not updated often enough. Shared information, available to all, has the potential to allow for much more collaborative working – something I’d obviously like to see happening with the Parry ONS, so that could be a very exciting development (if I can learn the technology!)

But…

Whilst working practices might change, how much will character and attitudes – if people pick the easy options now, isn’t that still likely to happen? We already see people happily linking into information and pedigrees, on sites such as Ancestry, with scant regard for accuracy. And contacts often pass on to me “facts” which I find to be incorrect. Sometimes it may only be a minor issue, such as reversed names etc - but that still takes time to investigate and clarify.

So how can any form of quality control be maintained when many people are all contributing to the same work in progress?

Dick did mention one possible solution, in the form of an “unalterable Wiki” – where information cannot be deleted so, rather than “correcting” what someone else has written, people would be able to add information and justify it, whilst still leaving the original in place so that future readers could judge all the evidence for themselves. This option does sound interesting - earlier this year someone on the Forum raised the question about using a Wiki for a one-name study site and there are Guild members already doing so. So perhaps some combination of a Wiki, linked to pedigrees built using a program such as The Next Generation or Second Site, which are designed for web sharing, is worth considering. I imagine it would be easier to update than my current web site, and more effective in engaging others to contribute.

But then, as well as the quality control issue, am I back to pedigrees spreading out over large areas so as to become unclear, or one person per page views that make it difficult to follow the various cousin level relationships, - the very reasons I deliberately decided to draw out my pedigrees in the first place!

As you can see, the conference has certainly left me pondering how to rise to the challenge of making the most of the technological advances, whilst still retaining the accuracy and clarity which (hopefully) are hallmarks of the Parry ONS.

(And that was just from two of the talks!)

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