Monday, 28 September 2009

Ancestry Difficulties

In yesterday’s blog I was discussing census images for which FamilySearch Indexing did not provide a transcription and which, therefore, are omitted from Ancestry’s database.

Along with the image of each folio on the 1861 census, Ancestry provides a "Report Problem" option. Opening it leads to three choices: "Missing Image", “Wrong Image” or "Unreadable Image". It does not include anything like "Image not Transcribed". If I tick "Missing Image" or "Unreadable Image" I immediately receive an automated e-mail thanking me and advising that if I wish to take the matter further I should telephone or write snail-mail.

Ancestry provides its services to us through the internet. Surely they ought to assume that their customers would want to use the same means to contact them. Phoning or writing costs money, particularly for those of us outside North America. As far as phoning is concerned, there is also the matter of time zones. The “matching working hours” window between Utah and the UK is very small.

Contacting "Contact Us" results in an e-mail saying they have put the question raised on their file of problems to check. Admittedly they get around to these problems eventually, but answers tend to be phrased as if every correspondent is looking for his/her own family and correcting a small mistake in one record. They do not seem to identify the general researcher looking at a community and who may be trying to point out to them something they may not have considered before.

One afternoon, a couple of weeks after I finished proofreading St David's, I received a collection of more than 500 e-mails from Ancestry thanking me for individual corrections and comments I had made. I didn't read too many, particularly after I found several suggesting I should take out a subscription. Can one read their Canadian census results without a subscription?

Excuse the rant. These molehills in Ancestry's provision can easily grow into mountains.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

St Lawrence's--Proofreading Stage

No, it wasn't a two-week break. I got down to work proofreading St Lawrence's Ward on the Monday and am now part way through the last of the four districts.

I think I have said before that I did the original transcription of "Larry" in a hurry prior to a trip to Canada. Does it show! The full correction is going to take quite a few days. Yesterday I discovered an error in reading the folio numbers that followed on for more than 100 households. Folio numbers are the vital reference to original sources and I use them as identification codes in my database. All these people will have to have their codes altered to link them to the city directories correctly.

The quality of some of the folios are so bad that FamilySearchIndexing didn't even attempt to transcibe them. This makes it difficult because in these cases there is no facility in Ancestry to "fill in the blanks". On most folios it is possible to read the ages and determine the number of people in the household. Had the indexer entered the ages it would have allowed others to have a go at the names.

Just for fun I decided to see if I could find one of these omitted households in the 1871 census. In Ancestry the left hand side of Folio 649 was no more that a smear, but there were ages given for ten people. It looked like the first nine were a family and the tenth a servant. On the reverse the signature was definitely that of David Gorman. This must have been one of those folios that should not have been bleached when the census films were renovated in the past year, because I had made some guesses as to names in my database. I couldn't have done so working with what Ancestry provides now.

David Gorman was aged 60 in 1861 so looking him up in the 1871 census was a bit of a long shot, but one might as well try. There he was aged 72 and still in St Lawrence with his wife, Margaret, and five of his children--the ones whose names were pretty well illegible.

I tried a couple of other folios of the same quality. One was successful, but the other must have belonged to a family who decided Toronto was not the place to seek their fortune after all.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

How to "take a break" in style

Last night I was checking people with 'C' surnames against Caverhill while listening to The Last Night of the Proms on radio. Once the program reached the intermission I felt eyes needed to experience this as well as the ears. It was time to leave the computer screen for the television one.

I was first introduced to the Last Night of the Proms 44 years ago when I had only been in the UK for a couple of weeks. Two of us were driving from Glasgow to London by way of the slow scenic route. Saturday night still found us on the Scottish side of the border staying with some people introduced to us by Canadian friends. As dinner ended our hosts recalled that it was the Last Night of the Proms, something that appeared to be a "must watch" to them, but meant nothing much to a couple of girls in their mid-twenties visiting from a foreign land. So the black-and-white television was switched on and we settled down to an evening in which conversation was not going to be the vital part.

As all of us who can remember back that far can recall that, as the 1950s moved into the 1960s, popular music changed. I was not a fan of rock'n'roll. In fact, to replace that empty space that had been filled by romantic ballads and easy jazz, I was discovering classical music of the era from Bach to Mozart. But concerts have never been my style. I can't keep my hands still in my lap. However, that evening I was doing my best to be a proper guest and not fidget excessively.

My yawn factor was suddenly reduced as the quieter parts of Sea Shanties moved into The Hornpipe and the camera moved to the standing audience doing their best to clap in time as the music got faster and faster. Then there was Jerusalem, which I had learned at school, sung with warmth and respect by singers on both sides of the podium. I was beginning to realize why my hosts had looked forward to this evening in front of the television.

"It will be Britannia next." And it was. I forget who the soloist was that year. I don't even know if it was a man or a woman. All I can remember was the audience participation--people of my own age waving flags and swaying from side to side in unison. Really letting their hair down and having fun. It was something I had never known at a symphony concert.

Then Sir Malcolm Sargent made his traditional Last Night speech, thanking all and sundry from Sir Henry Wood (the founder of the Proms whose bust sits on a plinth at the back of the platform) to the hoi polloi like us. On completion he turned to the orchestra, raised his baton, and the familiar tune of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1 came forth. The orchestra played the melody once through, and then, together, the whole audience began to sing "Land of Hope and Glory". Again the streamers and the flags came out. At that moment I decided this was where I wanted to be. These people were the kind of people I wanted to be part of.

The Last Night of the Proms has changed a bit over time, but it keeps many of the traditional features and people love it for doing so. The soloist for Britiannia sometimes comes on in costume. I recall a well-built soprano who came on in an all-covering cape which turned out to have a Union Jack lining. But last night Sarah Connolly, who had sung her earlier solo in a trouser suit, came on dressed as Horatio Nelson, and with a flourish presented her tricorn to the conductor who then proceeded to lead the orchestra with one hand while keeping the hat under his other arm.

A few years ago someone got the brilliant idea of producing matching "proms in the parks" in different parts of the country so that the live audience was not limited to those who can get to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Giant television screens allow the various concerts to be swapped around from venue to venue and fireworks displays add to the excitement. This year Handel's Fireworks Music took the place of the Sea Shanties. It was just as fitting. The weather was dry and warm enough for the park audiences to enjoy their night out.

The program from inside the Albert Hall has also changed. Thirty or more years of colour television has seen to that. I am sure there are more streamers and the flags are much larger. There are now a number of colour spotlights moving their beams around the hall. In fact, we did not see as much of the promenaders last night, and--shock, horror--many of them appeared to be in evening dress instead of the usual t-shirt, jeans and silly hat.

It was a wonderful way to take a break from Toronto 1861. If you want to see what this year's Last Night was about, follow The podcast will only be available for the next week (until September 19 2009). Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Keeping Busy in an Interim Period

When I completed St Andrew's Ward at the beginning of August, I thought I would be taking a three to four week transcription break before continuing on with St Patrick's, the final area to be done.

However, our Family History Centre and local LDS church unexpectedly decided to have the builders in and the centre is now closed for ten weeks or so. With no transcription to do I am keeping myself busy with other tasks in connection with the project: proofreading, comparing census data with city directories, reading histories of the period, and drawing maps.

Proofreading is being done with the assistance of Ancestry's provision of the original microfilms online. They now also bring up the transcription provided to them by the LDS FamilySearch Indexing project and allow any viewer to suggest alterations. As a result I am proofreading my transcription and theirs at the same time. They both contain errors. Hopefully, at the end of the day, the names in both will be the same.

Proofreading is a fairly slow activity and has a fairly early "yawn" threshold. However, I have almost completed St David's Ward which I transcribed four years ago. It is a lot easier to read a computer monitor than it was to figure out the same information on a microfilm screen. There is more magnification available and computer monitors tend to be cleaner.

Comparing the data from the census with city directories is something I have done quite a bit of ever since I started transcribing. It's nice to know exactly where a family lived and every once in a while the directory's entry sorts out legibility difficulties provided by the census. Of course, sometimes the directory gets something wrong, too. Let's face it, on cloudy days they would have been proofread by gaslight. And all the indexing was done by hand and eye and brain while we present a great list to our computer's software and, presto, it's done.

Last week I discovered that Amazon UK carries some books on Toronto history. As a result I now have copies of Eric Arthur's Toronto, No Mean City and two of Mike Filey's Sketches of the Way We Were. It's amazing how much I have learned about 19th century Toronto since I opened these books on Saturday.

Drawing maps is strictly a computer activity. I am no artist, but with a mouse I can draw a straight line. A drawing program called lets me trace from a map found online or scanned from a book. The original is the background layer. Then I add a pale solid colour as a translucent layer, then another layer on which I outline the streets and a third where I write the street names. When I'm finished I hide the original and I have a fairly easy-to-read street map. The streets on my map follow an even stricter grid pattern that Toronto planners provided us with in the first place. My father was a draughtsman who retired at about the same time as computers came on the scene. He would have been green with envy.

There's plenty to do, even without actually transcribing.