29    Nov 20095 comments

Family Statistics: A great new feature

Age DistributionFamily tree charts are very useful for an overall view of our ancestors, while descendant chart printouts help us understand, in a linear format, how the generations of our family relate to each other.

Now there's an entertaining way, via MyHeritage.com's new free tool, to learn family statistics contained in your data.

Called "Family Statistics," the new tool will help researchers access and understand 45 sets of statistics gathered from the information in their trees. It will also help identify data entry errors so they can be fixed.

The stats are organized into six Family Zones: names, places, ages, births, marriages and divorces.

Colorful charts indicate the age bracket distribution across your tree, as well as oldest and youngest family members. Learn who lived the longest, who married the youngest, who married the latest, which couple had the most children and many more details, such as the most common birth month of your relatives.

Life ExpectancyFamily Statistics is completely free and easily accessed from the MyHeritage welcome page or from the Reports tab of members' Family Tree sites. If you've just joined MyHeritage, but have not yet uploaded a Gedcom or entered family tree date, you won't see the Reports tab. That should encourage you to add more data s soon as possible!

How can Family Statistics help you in other ways?
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26    Nov 20091 comment

Thanksgiving: Family Health History Day

ThanksgivingAmericans celebrate Thanksgiving today - it is also the sixth annual National Family History Day, declared by the US Surgeon General.

Everyone should know their family medical history. The holidays are great times to get this project started, to collect information from the gathered generations and learn what they know about their own parents and grandparents.

Knowing as much of this information as possible may help assist children and grandchildren to be aware of family risks and recommendations. It will help you when you talk to your own doctor or other healthcare professional.

Most of us have been to a new doctor whose first questions for us concern what diseases or conditions are in our family. They ask about diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, cancer, allergies. They might ask what your grandparents suffered from and when they died (very young, a long life?).

I would hazard a guess that we may know what our parents suffered from, and perhaps the medical conditions of our grandparents, but how many of us know much more than that? To learn more, talk to your relatives about their own ancestors. Write down what they say, even if they are using old medical terms. There are websites that provide current terminology for the old names, search for "old medical terms."
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25    Nov 20091 comment

Making maps: A volunteer army covers the world

Did you know that armies of volunteer mapmakers are out there - all around the world - adding data to existing maps, fixing errors on those which exist, and creating digital maps of places for which no maps are available.

A picture is worth a thousand words and a map of a place closely associated with nostalgia and family history uncovers long-forgotten memories. Those memories reveal that we don't even know what we've forgotten until a map or photo jogs those brain cells. I applaud all those mapmakers!

I learned about the new term geo-volunteerism from a recent New York Times technology article that focused on how these individuals are really making a difference.

Have you ever experienced a problem while relying on a GPS device? Perhaps the city maps are not updated in a timely fashion or perhaps the responsible company relies on a big digital map provider who doesn't have a resident army on the ground.

When visiting a genealogy society in northern California in 2007, the group's president picked me up from the train and we drove to his home. As we neared his neighborhood, he pointed to his GPS device and said to watch it. The disembodied voice kept insisting the driver turn left at the next intersection, but my friend was in the right lane. I looked left and saw a large building. If we turned left, we'd drive in the front door. He turned right into his own street. This was a few years ago, and I hope that the city's maps have now been updated by some of these mapping volunteers.

With thousands of geo-volunteers around the world, local maps are getting quick fixes. People who live in the area know almost immediately when a new road has opened, when a new building has changed traffic patterns, or when a new housing complex hasn't been added to existing maps and GPS devices. They know about these things because they cover their own cities and neighborhoods every day.

The article demonstrates that Google and other websites now understand that local residents can fix problems more quickly than professional digital map providers.

Two websites were mentioned in the article - OpenStreetMap and Wikimapia - and I decided to see what they might have for places I have lived. The non-profit OpenStreetMap has some 180,000 contributors who have made free maps available to everyone. Its maps are used in IPhones and even on a White House website. Wikimapia's volunteers create maps that are layered on top of Google's.

Parkchester I checked an online resource for locations where my family had lived in New York. In the Bronx, we lived in Parkchester, a large, multi-building development built by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and now operated as a condominium. This map (right) shows our apartment building (well, the general location), as the interior streets of the development are not on this map.
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11    Nov 20096 comments

Digitized Maps: Another source of family details

title pageAs family history researchers, we are usually fascinated by maps - at least I am. These visual interpretations help us understand our family's origins in other countries and provide information on how our immigrant ancestors traveled to ports to board their ships, in addition to understanding historical events.

Those maps can be found in gazetteers and online. There are also local maps that can help us locate relatives who lived in towns and cities. Some local maps are for tax purposes, and others were developed for fire insurance liability.

In the US, the Sanborn Company published more than 660,000 maps from 1867-1970. These maps were drawn to help insurance underwriters understand the risks of insuring buildings in cities and towns.

For more than a century, over 660,000 Sanborn maps have demonstrated the growth and development of more than 12,000 American towns and cities. New digitalization projects, such as the one at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (Ohio), preserve the original colors in the two volumes scanned so far. Volume 1 runs 1904-1917, while Volume 2 runs 1904-1930.

The originals were colored according to construction key and other details. Some libraries have microfilmed copies of the maps which are only in black and white, but digitization preserves the original colors (see below)

Let's take a look at what the Cincinnati maps hold for illustration purposes. At this library, there's a separate PDF document online for each index page and map sheet.

All the sheets are on a map index (see below). Each sheet shows about four to six blocks. The scale of 50:1 means that each inch of the map covers 50 feet, allowing for considerable detail. Major public buildings include houses of worship, companies, public schools and more.
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