Google Wave Will Revolutionize Collaborative Genealogy

Google is going through a process of invit­ing 100,000 “early adopters” of to their new offer­ing, Wave. It may be a few months before just any­one can sign up.

To see what’s in store, you could watch the 80 minute video that they admit them­selves is “loooong.” Or, you could watch their 8 minute video, with a brief sum­mary of the product.

Google Wave is a tremen­dously pow­er­ful plat­form that will change the way geneal­ogy and fam­ily his­tory are done. Users of Wave cre­ate “waves,” which are some­thing between con­ver­sa­tions, e-mail mes­sages, col­lab­o­ra­tive author­ing ses­sions, video and pic­ture shar­ing, blog author­ing, and so many more things.

The key tech­nol­ogy involved in Wave, though, that makes it bet­ter than every other avail­able prod­uct for col­lab­o­ra­tive author­ing is that it allows for near real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tion. If I send you an e-mail, I have to wait for you to read it. If I write a blog entry, and I’m col­lab­o­rat­ing with another author, I have to save my draft, then tell them to take a look. Even if I’m “instant mes­sag­ing,” I still spend a good por­tion of the time wait­ing for a response and star­ing at a mes­sage that say some­thing like, “So-and-so is typ­ing.” But with Google Wave, I can see my cor­re­spon­dant type at the same time that I’m typ­ing. The con­ver­sa­tion is not ser­ial, but par­al­lel — we are both talk­ing at the same time. It’s more like an actual con­ver­sa­tion. When we work together on a doc­u­ment, we can each make edits wher­ever in the doc­u­ment we need to, and this can hap­pen simul­ta­ne­ously as fast as we can type.

So why will this mat­ter to geneal­o­gists? If you are work­ing with a dis­tant cousin on a dif­fi­cult prob­lem in the fam­ily his­tory, you can put together your evi­dence and be able to eval­u­ate it, and each of you edit it at any time. You can also roll back the con­ver­sa­tion to any point in the his­tory of it. You can cap­ture the con­ver­sa­tion at a spe­cific point and export it to another Wave. You can add other mem­bers of the Wave, and they can see the whole his­tory of the evo­lu­tion of the con­ver­sa­tion or doc­u­ment. Images can be added through drag and drop. The sys­tem can per­form simul­ta­ne­ous word-by-word trans­la­tions into a num­ber of lan­guages. The con­tex­tual spell checker knows that “icland is and icland” should prob­a­bly read “Ice­land is an island.”

For geneal­o­gists, this will be a pow­er­ful envi­ron­ment for work­ing together on com­mon research, for work­ing on the bylaws and stand­ing rules of the local genealog­i­cal soci­ety, and for author­ing real-time col­lab­o­ra­tive blogs. Don’t be sur­prised if the 2010 or 2011 NGS Con­fer­ence Blogs are writ­ten in Google Wave and then posted using the Bloggy robot in a stan­dard blog format.

Google Wave will also be a way for pro­fes­sional geneal­o­gists to share the notes they make on the way to their reports with their clients.

And don’t be sur­prised if, when work­ing with a researcher search­ing for Gra­hams in the same county in South­ern West Vir­ginia you are, you find your­self not both­er­ing with e-mail, but instead invite them to dis­cuss it over Google Wave.

Graham, et. al. v. Graham, et. al.

My most intractable genealog­i­cal brick­wall is the parent­age of Rebecca Martha Gra­ham (1831−1880).

Rebecca’s mother Jane Gra­ham (1811−1854) is dis­missed by her brother David Gra­ham (1821−1914) in his “His­tory of Gra­ham Fam­ily” (1899) with the fol­low­ing sen­tence: “Jane, the sec­ond daugh­ter of Joseph Gra­ham, died unmar­ried” (80).

On Google Books, how­ever, I have found doc­u­men­ta­tion for a case that might lead to the miss­ing father of Rebecca Martha Gra­ham. The case is “Gra­ham, et. al. v. Gra­ham, et. al., Decided May 1, 1880, The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”

As I men­tioned, Rebecca was the daugh­ter of Jane Gra­ham and some unknown para­mour. On 1 Nov 1853, Rebecca mar­ried Henry Lake Miller (1817−1900). Around the time of this mar­riage, Rebecca inher­ited $3,000 from her father (I pre­sume this was mainly land) who died in Missouri.

in 1854, Jane died a vio­lent death, for which her brother James Gra­ham (1813−1889) was put on trial and acquitted.

Lit­i­ga­tion on the Gra­ham v. Gra­ham chancery case began in 1859, and the case did not make its way com­pletely through to the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals until 1879, being decided in 1880. Unfor­tu­nately, Rebecca died one month and 11 days after win­ning her judg­ment. She died of dysentery.

But what was the case about? Rebecca Martha Graham’s grand­mother, Rebecca Gra­ham (1786−1876) had received “prop­erty” (land and a slave named Dinah) in the will of her father, James Gra­ham (1741−1813). The rel­e­vant por­tion of the will reads:

I give unto my Daugh­ter Rebeckah Gra­ham and her chil­dren, that plan­ta­tion where she now lives known by the name of Stephen­sons Cab­bin [sic] also I give unto her and her chil­dren my Negro girl named Dinah, the Land and Negro never to be dis­posed of out of the Fam­ily nor the increase of the Negro if any she has.

Because the elder Rebecca Gra­ham was mar­ried, her hus­band Joseph Gra­ham had “own­er­ship” of this prop­erty. After he died, his widow sold the two chil­dren of Dinah (Ira and Stu­art), and the bulk of the remain­ing chil­dren sued for a por­tion of the proceeds.

Whether or not this case yields the name and any par­tic­u­lars about Rebecca Martha Graham’s father, I’m sure it will be a case that reveals a great deal about rural ante­bel­lum West Virginia.

The main reminder here, how­ever, is not to for­get key sources, such as court cases. While not as often used as some other sources, such as vital records or cen­sus records, the records of court cases can be quite revealing.

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper
Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

The cause of free­dom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

– Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

At the NGS Fam­ily His­tory Con­fer­ence on Sat­ur­day, I was lucky enough to attend the Wake County luncheon.

The con­fer­ence includes sev­eral oppor­tu­ni­ties to hear speak­ers over lunch for a fee. The fee includes the price of the lunch and also serves as a fund raiser for the orga­ni­za­tion that has put together the event. These are almost always lec­tures, and while the lec­tures are more enter­tain­ing and light than those offered at the rest of the con­fer­ence, they are lec­tures.

The Wake County Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety (of which I am a not-very-active mem­ber) chose to do this dif­fer­ently. Instead of hav­ing one speaker, they had a troup of actors per­form­ing a play tai­lored for the occa­sion. The play was based on the lives of his­tor­i­cal per­son­ages of Wake County. While there were some rough edges to the per­for­mance, with some dropped lines, it was a very pow­er­ful per­for­mance. Espe­cially of note were the por­tray­als of Joel Lane, founder of Raleigh and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper. Of these, the pre­sen­ta­tion of Dr. Cooper was the most affecting.

Dr. Cooper was an edu­ca­tor and writer. She was the fourth African-American woman to receive a doc­tor­ate degree, and did so at the age of 65, shat­ter­ing bar­ri­ers of race, gen­der and age. She was born in slav­ery and lived to the age of 105, dying in 1964. She lived Amer­i­can his­tory from the Civil War to Civil Rights.

To read more about Dr. Cooper, see the Wikipedia arti­cle on her life, or read her most famous book, A Voice from the South on the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina’s Doc­South web­site.

Image © Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Chapel Hill. This work is the prop­erty of the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by indi­vid­u­als for research, teach­ing and per­sonal use as long as this state­ment of avail­abil­ity is included in the text. Cooper, Anna J., 1892, A Voice from the South, Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Print­ing House, Doc­u­ment­ing the Amer­i­can South. Uni­ver­sity Library, The Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Chapel Hill, 2000,

Kindle DX E-Book Reader

Last week, Ama­zon announced the impend­ing release of their third gen­er­a­tion e-book reader, the Kin­dle DX. (See the New York Times arti­cle on the announce­ment.)

The Ama­zon Kin­dle has cre­ated some­what of a sen­sa­tion with what are thought to be “iPod-like” sales num­bers. (Ama­zon has so far suc­ceeded in keep­ing the actual sales num­bers pri­vate.) Ama­zon does say a cou­ple of inter­est­ing things, how­ever, about the num­ber of books that Kin­dle read­ers buy. Accord­ing to Amazon’s fig­ures, pur­chasers of Kin­dle e-book read­ers buy as many tra­di­tional books as they did before, and are sup­ple­ment­ing their pur­chases of books on paper with pur­chases of e-books.

Step­ping away from the hype, the Kin­dle comes in for con­sid­er­able crit­i­cism, mainly around the issue of dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment. Just as with early ver­sions of the Apple iPod, the Ama­zon Kin­dle has been cre­ated with very tight dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment, which lim­its cus­tomers from shar­ing their books with other Kin­dle own­ers, giv­ing their books away after they have read them, donat­ing them to a library, and so on, which are stan­dard ways peo­ple think about books. Not only is a Kin­dle owner pre­vented from down­load­ing and read­ing a Kin­dle book on any Kin­dle they do not per­son­ally own, if Ama­zon ever stopped sup­port­ing the Kin­dle, there is no clear method to allow any­one to read the books they have “invested” in.

There was also some mis­guided flak from the Authors Guild about the com­puter voice that can “read” books to you on a Kin­dle. The nov­el­ist, e-book pro­po­nent, and Kin­dle critic, Cory Doc­torow wrote an illu­mi­nat­ing piece in The Guardian about how wrong-headed the Guild was in oppos­ing the “read-to-me” fea­ture of the Kin­dle (which also exists on every com­puter with a recent ver­sion of Adobe Acro­bat Reader).

But why should geneal­o­gists care?” you might ask. While there are 275,000 titles avail­able, very few of those are specif­i­cally genealog­i­cal in nature. The main mar­ket for the Kin­dle and its read­ers is con­tem­po­rary best-selling fic­tion and non-fiction. While there’s some over­lap there, with some nov­els illus­trat­ing the time peri­ods of our ances­tors’ lives, and some non-fiction best sell­ers being excel­lent vol­umes of his­tory, the con­nec­tion seems tenuous.

The real ben­e­fit for geneal­o­gists in the Kin­dle is that its plat­form is not entirely closed. In addi­tion to read­ing books for­mat­ted for the Kin­dle itself, it can also read books from the pub­lic domain con­verted into Mobipocket for­mat. Tens of thou­sands of these books are avail­able on sev­eral sites includ­ing, and But, since these books are also mainly not of inter­est to geneal­o­gists, a more com­pelling fea­ture of the Kin­dle is that (in its first two ver­sions) it can con­vert PDF and Word doc­u­ments to Kin­dle for­mat. The con­ver­sion is not per­fect, though, and some files sim­ply don’t work.

Kin­dle DX and Geneal­ogy: Here’s where the Kin­dle DX comes in. The Kin­dle DX reads PDF files natively. This means that geneal­o­gists will be able to down­load any PDF file they have access to, whether it’s a pub­lic domain PDF of a local his­tory from the 1890s down­loaded from Google Books or their genealog­i­cal society’s newslet­ter, and take it with them in a device that is about the size of a piece of paper and 1/3 of an inch thick. Since the device has 3.3 GB of stor­age, there’s plenty of room for books. The Kin­dle is nearly instant-on (try that with your Vista lap­top!), and less of a strain on the eyes than a com­puter mon­i­tor because it’s not back­lit. The Kin­dle also allows for easy book­mark­ing, high­light­ing and copy­ing of por­tions of text. It keeps track of where you were the last time you opened any document.

So, you heard it here first, the Kin­dle DX will be an attrac­tive addi­tion to the genealogist’s gad­get bag, lim­ited only by its $489 list price.

Top 10 Genealogy Websites

Today, Randy Seaver posted to his blog Genea-Musings his list of top 10 favorite geneal­ogy web­sites.He men­tions that he’s tak­ing off from a trend we’ve seen on Face­book, of the “5 items I have” known, seen, met, and so on. And, of course, list mak­ing is a long and hon­ored tradition.

With­out too much fur­ther ram­bling, I’ll share my own top 10 list of geneal­ogy sites.

This list, like any “best of” list will change from day to day. What it looks like today will cer­tainly not be iden­ti­cal to how it would look tomor­row or would have looked last week. All the rel­e­vant list caveats apply. So, here goes:

  1. ($, por­tions free) (includ­ing ) — The amount of data here is vast. As are the tools, from their geneal­ogy soft­ware, Fam­i­lyTreeMaker, to DNA research.
  2. ($, por­tions free) — The folks at Foot­note sim­ply under­stand Web 2.0 and pro­vide some­thing between Ances­try, Flickr, and Face­book. Mean­while, their part­ner­ship with the National Archives con­tin­ues to reap rewards for users of the site.
  3. (free, with a dona­tion model) — This site is weirdly com­pelling. It’s a pow­er­ful way to gather data, with the vast major­ity of infor­ma­tion con­tributed by “care­tak­ers” of the fam­ily records, and yet these adding up to viru­tal graveyards.
  4. (free) — An amaz­ing and ambi­tious por­tal into LDS records and geneal­ogy tools.
  5. Steve Morse’s One-Step Web­site (free) — I find the search algo­rithms here very help­ful to break through prob­lems where I don’t know enough to search a site directly (or don’t know what par­tic­u­lar mis­spelling is in my way). Steve’s site runs mul­ti­ple searches behind the scenes so that you don’t have to do them all in a man­ual fashion.
  6. EOGN — Eastman’s Online Geneal­ogy Newslet­ter ($, por­tions free) — Dick East­man inhab­its the cen­ter of the space where geneal­ogy and tech­nol­ogy inter­sect. If you’re inter­ested in that over­lap, and you hap­pen not to have seen this blog, you really ought to take a look. East­man keeps me up-to-date on tech­nol­ogy I can use in genealogy.
  7. GNIS (free) — The USGS Geo­graph­i­cal Names Infor­ma­tion Sys­tem. This is very handy for find­ing out the loca­tion of streams, churches, and so on. If it was ever listed on a US Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey map as a fea­ture or place, it’s in this database.
  8. (free) — This is a locale-based list­ing of avail­able sites. I find it help­ful to look here when I start work­ing in a new county or state. The site helps me find location-specific online resources I might not find any other way.
  9. — Like Ances­try, this is a great site, full of pow­er­ful databases.
  10. ($, por­tions free) — I’m really impressed with how the folks at Geneal­o­gy­Bank do sim­ple things. For exam­ple, their free Secu­rity Death Index results you the birth and death dates, just as many other sites do, but they also cal­cu­late the age at death. Addi­tion­ally, they use the “Last Res­i­dence” zip code to pro­vide lat/long data you can use to quickly map the location.

But I’d be inter­ested in know­ing what’s on your list, and learn­ing about new sites that will end up being on my list next time I com­pile one.


Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. Pho­to­graph par­tially eaten by the fam­ily dog.

I recently used a ser­vice from a web­site called Scan­Cafe, and have to say I was impressed by the qual­ity, speed and val­ueS­can­Cafe is an image scan­ning and dig­i­ti­za­tion ser­vice. You sub­mit an order, then ship them a box of your pho­tographs, neg­a­tives, and/or slides. Scan­Cafe then scans your images by hand and at a high-resolution. When they are done, you receive an e-mail and can go online to review the scanned images and choose which keep. You pay only for the images you keep, then they send back all of your orig­i­nals as well as a DVD of the scans.

What I found impres­sive about the ser­vice was the care with which they deal with the pho­tographs. White glove treat­ment is stan­dard. Addi­tion­ally, you can send them images in carousels and albums, and they will remove your images from the carousels and albums, scan them at their stan­dard rates, and replace them, in order, before ship­ping the carousels or albums back to you.

Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. After ScanCafe

They guar­an­tee your orig­i­nals, and will pay $1,000 if your images or lost or destroyed while they have them. While our images are irre­place­able and invalu­able, it’s still good to know that Scan­Cafe will feel some finan­cial pain if they do lose your images.

ScanCafe’s process is per­haps a lit­tle unortho­dox. You send your pho­tographs to an office in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area. In turn, they for­ward them to their offices in Ban­ga­lore (Ben­galuru) India, where the actual scan­ning and restora­tion is done.

There are three key ben­e­fits I see in ScanCafe’s service:

  1. They only make you pay for the scans you keep. This came in handy for me, as there were some dupli­cates in the bunches of pho­tos I sent. I found the images among them scanned best, and didn’t have to pay for the others.
  2. They pro­vide best-in-class restora­tion ser­vices at a rea­son­able price. When your images appear on the cus­tomer area of the Scan­Cafe web­site, you can see their selec­tion of images they think they can improve with their restora­tion service.
  3. Their com­mit­ment to qual­ity and cus­tomer ser­vice is high and demon­stra­ble. Take a look at the restora­tion they did of the snap­shot of my par­ents at their wed­ding. The orig­i­nal was almost too painful to look at, hav­ing been under­ex­posed, the par­tially eaten by a fam­ily pet, and finally, crimped and folded. Scan­Cafe removed all of these issues and got me the image pretty much as I always should have had it. (My only issue with this par­tic­u­lar image is that I think that it’s now a lit­tle overexposed.)


Life­hacker, a web­site devoted to sim­pli­fy­ing work aligned with the “Get­ting Things Done” method­ol­ogy of author David Allen, points to a time man­age­ment tool called TimeEd­i­tion. I have tried the appli­ca­tion out, and it’s as they describe it: Amaz­ingly sim­ple to use, and with a handy inte­gra­tion with the Google Cal­en­dar allow­ing you to see your sta­tus from any browser.

It will no doubt be a very handy tool for track­ing my pro­fes­sional geneal­ogy projects. I could also see some ama­teurs, who want to see where they’re spend­ing their time, using this tool on a more tem­po­rary or peri­odic basis.

Their full arti­cle is on the Life­hacker web­site. TimeEd­i­tion is avail­able for the Mac OS and Windows.