Review: Springpad


I have been evaluating Springpad, a note taking tool.

It is not really fair, though, to call it that. Springpad is more like a Swiss Army knife for the Internet. There’s a lot of utility in small and elegant package.

Springpad was built to help you quickly grab information from the web, associate it with other information, create and manage tasks, and so on. There are specific integrations with a dozen or more popular services such as Amazon, Apple Trailers, IMDB, Flickr, and many others.

The creators also obviously were thinking of the iPad specifically and tablets and smart phones more generally when they named and designed this product. The user interface on the Android is easy to get around, and there are even big buttons for some things (such as checking off a to-do list item) in the web version.

Where the application really shines is in finding relevant snippets and web links about current day locations such as restaurants, but also museums and brick-and-mortar stores. The site then organizes the information and presents it in a clean list fashion, or as pins on a Google map, or on a virtual corkboard of images and stickies.

In your settings, you can link to Twitter, Yahoo, Gmail and Facebook accounts, as well as get an e-mail address to mail things to if you have something to add to Springpad when you are not on their site. There’s also a quick link to import your Delicious links. (When Yahoo’s decision to divest itself of Delicious, users of the social bookmarking site got up-in-arms about it; software developers at Evernote, Springpad, Pinboard and other sites quickly posted ways to import links from Delicious. Evernote’s method brings every bookmark into a single note, which is just lame. Pinboard and Springpad were more oriented to treating the links as independent items.)

Springpad is designed to help you control what you share. You cannot create fine-grained sharing controls. Items are either shared with everyone on the Internet or they are kept private. This can be controlled at the category level (bookmarks, restaurants, products, recipes, files, businesses, albums, wine, and so on) or at the level of the individual item.

For Getting Things Done (GTD), Springpad provides tasks and task lists, but also check lists, packing lists, alarms, shopping lists, events, and milestones. This looks like it will be very handy: When you add a recipe that the site recognizes as such, you are literally one click away from having a shopping list. Since the site syncs your devices, that list is ready to show up on your smart phone.

Springpad for genealogists is very handy as a powerful task list organizer, and as a quick way to gather in advance what is around the courthouse you will be visiting (the brewpub, the golf course, the hotel), but it’s almost painful to see how deep the integration is with sites like Yelp and Epicurious and realize that there is no such product that delves into, Rootsweb, Footnote, and similar sites. We still have to search for items one by one on various websittes, then manually download and catalog each finding. It’s only a matter of time before someone takes this level of usability and applies it to the gathering and organizing of historical data. When that day comes, the irony is that it may make physical repositories more important to the casual researcher, because genealogical data mining will proceed faster.

Genealogy Resolutions for 2011

The end of the year gets us all thinking about how this year went, what went well, what we could be better about.

As I look toward 2011, I can say that I have had some great learning opportunities in 2010. I expect to have similar ones in 2011, and even more so.

In 2010, I did the bulk of the work on the NGS Home Study Course. I should be finishing that up soon.

I went to the NGS (Salt Lake City) and FGS (Knoxville) conferences, and will be attending both conferences, in Charleston, SC and Springfield, IL respectively, in 2011. While I won’t have an NGS conference in Salt Lake, I will have an NGS Board Meeting there in February, and I hope to get in some research hours while I am there.

I went to Samford in 2010, and plan to do so again in 2011. The mad rush for seats will definitely be on when the course registration opens up.

I will continue to follow the trends in corporate interest in genealogy (Ancestry, BrightSolid), as well as the mass media view of it (NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”).

Where I plan to focus my attention is in genealogical research trip planning. I am starting to gather tasks in Evernote that I can take with me to Salt Lake, the National Archives and other repositories. Because of the powerful search and saved search functions, I can search for notes along the lines of:

Evernote Filtering

I will also be taking a look at Springpad, which seems like a worthy competitor to Evernote. It has a very appealing user interface, has better control of sharing of items, and some fun-looking integrations with Amazon, GoodReads, Apple Trailers, IMDB, Fandango, Netflix, and so on. When you add something like a book or movie, Springpad suggests text and links about that item, prepopulating everything from links to purchase tickets, to the full cast list of a movie.

There is also integration with Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr to help you import content in (Flickr) as well as share it. They are set up to receive your Delicious tags, since it’s unclear what the future of that popular service will be …

So, I resolve to keep on keeping on. To push forward into learning more about methodology, and more about the records, the history, and the law in the particular locations (Nebraska, West Virginia, Virginia, Sweden), where I find myself doing research. And I resolve to keep myself open to new advances in technology, including seemingly stylistic or usability advances, as the enthusiasms I have for tools like Evernote and TweetDeck today, may be replaced by Springpad or something else tomorrow. And I resolve to strive to maintain enough distance from the technical tools to avoid mistaking the tool for the point, which is progress through a “reasonably exhaustive search” to come to an understanding of genealogical data, to practice what I call “history at ground level.”

Happy New Year!

Review: Genline vs. Arkiv Digital

Arkiv Digital Example
Arkiv Digital Example

As the year ends, I am both closing out an account at Genline (now a subsidiary of Ancestry), and trying out Arkiv Digital.

I have found Genline to be frustrating. Some of this, no doubt has to do with the fact that the family is not the easiest to find, with the parish changing names, as I mentioned yesterday. Some of it, though, is Genline’s interface and their images. In Genline, you select a län (County), one or more parishes, and one or more church record types. The interface is completely in English on the Mac, so at least you don’t struggle with rudimentary vocabulary.

Once you run your search, you receive a list of relevant pages. Each is marked with a Page Type (Normal Page, Register Start, Cover of Book, and so on). There are columns for place names and years, but these area all too often blank. (Imagine how quickly this would be indexed by year if they had an open community sourcing model like that at Footnote! Genline is starting to experiment with allowing users to annotate the images. I hope they continue.) On both sites, many if not most of the pages are distinguished only by their number. Arkiv Digital often provides a typed sheet at the beginning of a book telling you which page to go to for a particular year. Even when there isn’t such a rough time index, the pages load about 50% slower on Genline. (This is not scientific, but my perception is that I was getting downloads from Arkiv Digital in fewer than 3 seconds and in about 5 seconds from Genline.)

Genline Example
Genline Example

When you decide to dive in, you have grayscale images that were taken from the LDS microfilms. They are serviceable, but do not always have the best contrast. (Genline does provide some tools for adjusting brightness and contrast.) Arkiv Digital provides clean, new high-contrast color images. I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be reading images line by line in 150-year-old Swedish script, I much prefer the Arkiv Digital product to that from Genline.

Genline offers a great feature allowing to see where you are in the context of the image when you are zoomed in on the image, and might need some perspective, which I find handy. You can also use it to change how much of the image you want to see by interacting with this thumbnail. However, I find it perplexing that the search window disappears when I want to look at the result. I much prefer Arkiv DIgital’s approach, which uses tabs, like a modern web browser.

Then, there is the pricing. Archiv Digital is 995 SEK (Swedish kronor) until January 9th, or about $146. Genline is 1295 SEK, or about $190. Both seem over priced if you compare their prices for access to the 24 million Swedish church records to those for sites like Ancestry ($300 a year for the run of all 6 billion historical records), or Footnote ($80 for a year, 72 million images).

One wonders what Ancestry intends to do with sites like Genline, which (as does Arkiv Digital) requires an installation of the user, and still remain intensely country specific. My hope is that Ancestry is trying to build its global brand by focusing on competing in local markets, where a sizeable chunk of the addressable market is interacting with other vendors than Ancestry. If these products can be folded into the Ancestry World Access product, or as some more reasonably priced add on, I think they have some real opportunities. And putting the innovation engine that is Footnote into the mix — if Footnote is allowed to teach Ancestry and all of its brands a trick or two — really makes the new year interesting in the commercial ancestral records market.

Finding My Swedes

Detail of the Baptismal Record of Nils Svensson (Nels Johnson)
Detail of the Baptismal Record of Nils Svensson (Nels Johnson)

In general, Swedish records are easy to find and use. The Swedes started keeping detailes records of vital records, but also of migration and emigration, from a very early date. And they have had a long-standing tradition of pacifism, meaning that comparatively few records have been burned.

My elusive Swedes, however…. They told everyone — in my great grandfather Nels Johnson’s family Bible, in the history of the family by the eldest daughter (Lena Johnson) of the eldest daughter (Bothilda Johnson) of the immigrants — that they emigrated from Viby in 1868. (Viby was small then, and is still small now: In 1995 population was 936.) There is such a parish, and they were not lying, they were from there.

They just didn’t think to mention that it had changed its name a couple of times:

  • After the Gustav IV Adolph ascended to the throne of Norway and Sweden in 1792, the name of the parish was changed to  Gustav Adolf in his honor.
  • Another wrinkle: from 1681–1856, Viby was associated with Rinkaby, and apparently also with Åhus.
  • After 1856, Gustav Adolf and Rinkaby become parishes of the Villand Hundred.

Clear as mud? Just as one is told commonly in genealogy to look to the next county over, I am searching Viby, Gustav Adolph, Rinkaby, and Åhus for my Swedish ancestors.

I am having great success. I am still mainly in the Gustav Adolph papers. (One of the leading Swedish firms for genealogical records, Arkiv Digital is providing free access for a couple of days, ending on December 30th.)

There is a lot to like about AD: The images are gorgeous new, color images, downloadable as PNGs. (They are also supposed to be downloadable as JPGs, but it does not seem to save the files when I ask for a JPG.) The documents are not indexed by name, but AD provides some handy ways into the documents based on locale and timeframe, and the images load very quickly.

I have been able to locate 8 records of birth or birth and baptism, and one marriage certificate. The births include:

  • Nils Svensson (my great grandfather, known in America as Nels Johnson), b. 24 October 1863, #7 Viby, [Kristianstad län, Sweden]; bapt. 31 October 1863, Viby, [Kristianstad län, Sweden]; son of Sven Jönsson and Kerstin Jönsdotter, The godparents were Nils Andersson of #8 (next door) and Karna Jönsdotter of #7. (Karna is mentioned in the family history as Kerstin’s sister, who they later helped immigrate to the U.S.).
  • Kerstina Jönsdotter (my great-great grandmother, known in America as Kjerstin Johnson), b. 6 November 1834, in Wiby, [Kristianstad län, Sweden]; daugher of Jöns Westassons [family documents say “Vesterson” or “Wyscelius”]

I have also found the record of the marriage of Kjerstin and Sven, in 1853, and the birth records of

  • Bothilda (in America Thilda) (1854)
  • Petr (in America, Peter) with a separate baptismal record (1857)
  • Jöns (in America, John) (1860)
  • Ingrid (in America, Ida) (1865), and
  • Erik (in America, Eric) (1868).

That’s just a highlight. There’s more for me to do, even with the records I found, but it is exciting to be working with such well preserved and well presented records. (Thanks Arkiv Digital!)

Snow and Swedish Research

It has been snowing here in Raleigh, such that we woke up this Boxing Day to a good 8 inches.

Not long after that, and before the coffee was even brewed, the power went out. It was out until mid-afternoon, and the first time the power company provided an estimated time to resolution, they said midnight.

There wasn’t much we could do except ensure that we had long wooden matches, so we make coffee and whatever else we might want, on the stove.

While we waited to see to see if the power would come on, I picked up the copy of Your Swedish Roots: A Step-By-Step Handbook by Per Clemensson and Kjell Andersson (Provo: Ancestry Publishing, 2004) that I bought about 18 months ago.

Clemensson and Andersson write clearly and entertainingly. They provide an excellent historical context for the Swedish emigration, which saw 1.2 million Swedes (or 20% of the population) leave the country between 1821 and 1930. This made Sweden the third European country in percentage of  population to emigrate to the New World and Oceania (behind Ireland and Norway) (p. 17). There is a very helpful chart showing the scale of the emigration from 1850 to 1962, including re-immigration back to Sweden, and noting economic and cultural conditions pushing people from Sweden and drawing them to America (pp. 22-23).

In addition to the historical background, Clemensson and Andersson provide orientation to the records of Sweden, guidance to some online resources (primarily focusing on Genline, though there are many more sites now).

Their method is to take readers step-by-step through sample research with one main family and a couple of other case studies to illustrate earlier or later research methods, opportunities, and challenges. They provide a quick explanation of Swedish names, including the patronymic as well as the nature names often taken by military men and their families, and the names of the nobility.

The book is an excellent starting point, slightly dated in terms of Internet access to records, but sound in its recommendations and methods for getting to the home country, when that home country happens to be that snowy land of Sweden. A perfect book to pick up on a snow day in Raleigh.

Ours was a Merry Christmas …

we hope yours was as well.

Looking forward to 2011, I am planning a several talks: two in Raleigh, NC, at the North Carolina Genealogical Society Speakers Forum on February 19th, and three in Charleston, SC, at the National Genealogical Society Conference between 11-14 May.

These along with trips to Salt Lake City in February (for a Board Meeting of the NGS) and to the FGS Conference in Springfield, IL in September, promise to make it a busy genealogy year.

2011 will also bring with it another season of Executive Producer Lisa Kudrow’s “Who Do you Think You Are?“, which starts again on February 4th at 8 (7 Central). According to the Associated Press, the new season will include Tim McGraw, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Ashley Judd, Steve Buscemi, Vanessa Williams, and Rosie O’Donnell.

The show has been a mixed blessing for genealogists. While it has clearly popularized family history research, and shown the transformative nature of genealogical revelation. The painstaking and time-consuming research required to unearth many of these revelations is done off camera, and most viewers are simply unaware how much research is involved. A simple title card stating that “x number of hours of genealogical research went into producing this episode,” would provide the audience with necessary context. Many researchers have received phone calls in the days and weeks after an episode of WDYTYA? asking for “my family tree” to be created either gratis, pronto, or both.

Still, it is a compelling show, and my family and I are looking forward to the new episodes.

Allen County Public Library Website

The Allen County Library this fall has posted a new website at The site has a number of features of interest.

  • There are eight free databases that you can search simultaneously from their homepage:
    • African American Gateway — Includes information on US, Canadian, and Caribbean resources.
    • Family Files and Resources — Sixteen unique family files submitted by researchers.
    • Genealogy Center Microtext Catalog — A searchable list of microfilm and microfiche available in The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library.
    • Indiana and Other State Resources — These resources have been contributed by researchers. The states included at this point are Indiana (with the bulk of the resources), Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
    • Family Bible Records — This appears to be a small (but potentially growing) collection of records, currently totaling 12 families.
    • Fort Wayne and Allen County Resources — Marriage, death, cemetery, funeral home, court records (guardianships, applications for naturalizations), ethnic records (African-American, German), government, history, institutional, and military records. If you have family from this part of the country, this is an invaluable resource.
    • Genealogy Center Surname File — A database of researchers who, since 1998, have left provided the Library with their contact information, and information on the surnames they are searching.
    • Our Military Heritage — A collection of American military records from the colonial wars through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • There are a number of guides to particular topics in genealogy, including adoption, church records, Eastern European research, Scottish research.
  • Genealogy Gems, the library’s e-zine, is available for free download from its inception in March 2004 through 2009.
  • A blog outlining the new site and the Library.
  • There is a form you can use to request copies of articles that are in the PERSI, the Periodical Source Index:

Well, I could stay here all night making a complete list, but these are some of the highlights….

I am looking forward to delving further into the site.

New Google Offerings

Google continues to offer new features and products that can be of use to genealogists.

Among the most interesting recent releases is the ability to dial cell phones and land lines from within G-Mail using your computer’s speakers and microphone and Google Voice technology. This allows for free long distance calls, at least through 2011. After this year, Google will determine whether to continue this as a free service, or bill for it.

Here are some other recent releases:

  • Google Instant is Google’s attempt to save you keystrokes by providing instant search results while you type. Google pays attention to the results that mean the most to you, and to others typing the characters you are typing and tries to provide a predictive search. The results are uncanny, even spooky. See to run an instant search (or, for more information, see:
  • Google Realtime is the company’s attempt to keep people searching at Google, instead of at Bing or Twitter, when they are looking for up-to-the-second news, blog posts, and other breaking news. See to run a realtime search (or, for more information, see:
  • Google eBookstore is Google’s long-awaited entry into selling electronic books. It is the largest electronic bookstore in existence, with 3 million titles. Books purchased or downloaded for free from the Google eBookstore can be read in Google’s free reading software, on the web, or for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Sony, and Nook readers. There are many titles of genealogical interest that are in the public domain and available for free from this store. See: for the store, and the for the Google blog entry on the ebookstore.
  • Google Ngram Viewer. This is perhaps the most interesting research tool Google has released in a long time. I just mentioned that they have 3 million titles in their electronic bookstore. This is actually only one fifth of the titles that they have scanned. All of those 15 million scanned books have been run through advanced optical character recognition (not perfect, mind you, but pretty good). Two scholars at Google have taken 500 million words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish and provided both the raw dataset of phrases and how often they have been used on a yearly basis, and a tool for novices to run these kinds of search. See for the search tool, and and for more information. Genealogists can use this to see when words came and went in currency, which can help date letters and other documents.

Google has become quite a behemoth. Loved and hated at the same time for its power, innovation, weird insistence on the mantra “don’t be evil,” while amassing tons of detail about our online activities, the books we read, the things we search for, and so on. Despite all of this, for me, these tools are creating a new access to information that would otherwise be inaccessible. It’s a net plus.

[Updated 12/25/2010, to correct the extension of Google voice calls from G-Mail through the end of 2011.]

150 Years Ago …

The Flag of the State of South Carolina
South Carolina Flag

Over the next five years, we will be observing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. On December 20, 1860, that is, 150 years ago, this week, for example, South Carolina seceded from the Union, touching off a wave of secessions that led to the War itself.

While the war is often described these days as being about “states rights,” of course, it was about states rights to continue slavery, and the concerns in the slave states that the North would abolish slavery, destroying the economy that had been built upon the foundation of the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery.

This argument has not really ended, as the blog post at the New York Times notes (“Dancing Around History,” New York Times website, 20 December 2010). There are still those who would cast the Civil War, and the secession of the Southern states, as a struggle for states rights, and one that continues. But of course, the Constitution was never the Articles of Confederation. The Articles had indeed created a loose confederation of independent states, one so loose it was not workable. The single over-riding point of the Constitution is the rule of law, and how fairness and equality would be the cornerstone of the new government. (The “three fifths of all other persons” clause out of the discussion for the moment; the irony of that lack of equality in the core of the document was not lost on the founders and does not invalidate the Constitution, it was only itself invalid and contradictory to the point of the document.) Edward Ball, the author of Slaves in the Family, writes an especially poignant op-ed piece in the New York Times about revisionist history relative to secession, slavery, and the Civil War (“Gone with the Myths,” New York Times, 18 December 2010).

If the government was to be a federal government, and not a loose confederation of states, then the states would have some powers, but not all. And the Southern states, in joining the United States had ceded some power. That power included that the Congress could enact, the President sign, and the President’s administration carry out laws. Additionally, that the Constitution could be amended.

Those who would say that secession was about states’ rights should take a look at the South Carolinian secession declaration (“Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union”), which says in part:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions [i.e., slavery]; and have denied the rights of property [i.e., slavery] established in fifteen of the States [i.e., the slave-holding states] and recognized by the Constitution [alas, all too true!]; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States [in other words, they have allowed an abolitionist movement to start and spread]. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

While the intentions of the South Carolinan “fire eaters” (supporters of Southern secession) are clear, this should not be seen as an indictment of every individual in the South, especially not of Southern soldiers, most of whom were not direct beneficiaries of plantation slavery. As ever, soldiers have fought for a number of reasons, including societal norms, the draft, a sense of duty, and on and on. Individuals were usually doing their damndest to do the right thing as they saw it, and not get killed in the process. We can honor their sacrifice while not honoring their cause. However, it is at our peril that we revise history in a vain attempt to rehabilitate our ancestors. As genealogists, it is our role to see our family history, as I think of it, “history at ground level,” with a clear, unbiased gaze.