Monday, June 8, 2015

My Ability To Transcribe Deeds Just Got A Lot Faster

I hate to type.  I love land records.  These two things do not go together.

I have found so much great information in land records and I am lucky that many of the records I need are in Maryland.  In Maryland, all verified land instrument records are on-line (and free) through MDLANDREC.  All that is needed to access the records is a username and password, offered with a free registration.

The problem with getting all these great records is that the older records are hand written.  In general the copies are good, but they are tedious to read and even more tedious to transcribe, especially when you hate to type.

SOURCE - BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT (Land Records) WG RR, p. 0172, MSA_CE66-92
So since I had some gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, and a bunch of records to transcribe, I decided to spring for Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  I had heard some good things about the software and several administrative people in my office use it.

After my purchase I installed it and have been using it for about a half an hour.  So far I love it! In fact, I'm not typing this blog, I'm having Dragon do it for me.

I was hesitant on buying a voice recognition program because I have problems with phone systems that can supposedly use verbal cues in their menus.  But to this point I haven't had any issues.  During set up it had me read a few paragraphs of text so the software could learn my voice.  Also, I have the TV on in the background and Dragon doesn't seem to have an issue with picking up that noise.

I still have a lot to learn about the software, but to be able to go from installation to using it successfully in ten minutes is awesome.  I'm sure the cost of the software will be prohibitive for some, but for me the amount of time it's going to save his worth that cost.  I purchased the Premium version which is supposed to work with spreadsheets, so I may not even need to worry about using Google Forms any longer.

Oh, and not only does this software type better than I do but it spells better than I do too!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Using Google Forms to Collect Information from Newspapers

I have been doing a lot of newspaper research recently.  I like to track what I find in a spreadsheet, it allows me to quickly sort my information and color-code cells for analyzing the data.  The problem is I hate to fill out spreadsheets.  I just don't like the layout when typing in all the stuff I need to put in the spreadsheet.
I use a lot of spreadsheets at work but I rarely create a spreadsheet from scratch.  Usually my spreadsheets are created from some other application that "exports" to the spreadsheet format.  I guess since that is what I am used to, that is what I like.
Also at work I recently discovered Google Forms.  I had to survey some of my co-workers and Google Forms was suggested as a way to create a quick, free survey.  Once I create the survey in Google Forms I can send it to my co-workers and once they fill out and submit the form their responses are collected within a spreadsheet.
As I was learning more about Google Forms I thought, "this may be a tool I can use for genealogy".

I started doing a little googling.  I was sure I wasn't the first person to come up with using Forms for genealogy.  I stumbled upon a webinar that Thomas MacEntee did way back in 2011 for the Legacy Family Tree webinar series (Google Forms for Genealogists).  I haven't heard him really mention Google Forms recently, so maybe he isn't using them as much as he was then.  Some of the "quirks" he mentioned back then have been addressed in updates to the Forms app, some haven't.  But I think for my use it will be fine.

So my first step is to figure out what fields I want in my form:
1. Name of paper
2. Date of item
3. Page
4. Column
5. Type of article (Birth, Marriage, Death, Court, Land, News)
6. Transcription of article
7. Link to Image of paper

Based on the type of news item I will then have different fields I want to collect.
For example, if it is a birth notice I want to collect:
- Name of baby
- Name of father
- Name of mother
- Date of birth
- Place of birth

If it is a marriage item I want to collect:
- Name of groom
- Name of bride
- Date of marriage
- Place of marriage
- Name of officiant
Once I figure out what fields I need on the form I will create the form.  Since I will be the only one using it (for now) the form doesn't need to be fancy.  But it can be customized and themes assigned to the form if you want.

Then when the form is designed I can start using it to collect my newspaper information.

I'll be experimenting a bit with my form and next time I will have more detailed instructions on the process of creating the form and using it.
If this goes well I am thinking of using a form as a replacement for my vital records spreadsheet as well.
Stay tuned...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Evaluating Signatures

Several years ago I was helping someone with research on one of their ancestors.  He was was looking for an ancestor that had a fairly common name in a big city.  It was difficult to track which guy was "the guy" due to similar names, ages, spouse names and inconsistent birth/marriage dates.

At the time, one of the things we were doing was looking at signatures on different documents and comparing them to try and find the correct ancestor.  We had a few that were vaguely similar but enough differences to assume they weren't the correct person. 

I am no expert in handwriting analysis and I understand that how someone signs their name can change over time but I was pretty confident at the time that we could rule certain samples out.

But a co-worker said something to me today that has me rethinking our analysis back then.
I had to update some forms and my co-worker had copies of the forms I signed five years ago.  I was also required to provide my drivers license (which I renewed and signed two years ago).
After I signed the forms and handed over my license the co-worker said, "are you sure these old signatures are yours?".  Of course I was sure...I signed them.  Then it hit me.

Last June I was hiking, slipped on a rock in a stream, fell and broke the middle finger on my right hand.  The x-rays revealed a benign tumor in that finger which required surgery once the break healed.  I spent all of June, July and August with a splint that immobilized the last 3 fingers of my right hand.  Then came 4 months of therapy to try and restore the range of motion of my fingers (which I still do not have).  I still cannot make a fist or hold a pen the way I did before the fall.  Therefore, I am not able to sign my name the way I did before, I am not sure I ever will.

In 100 years when someone is researching me, if they find documents with my signature, and they compare them, I am sure it will be confused. 

By the way, in the times since the original signature evaluation of my friend's ancestor, he has been able to find additional information that allowed him to find the right guy.  One of the signatures we had ruled out did belong to him...three of them did not.