I remember thinking when I first starting using PAF that by the next version someone would have figured out how to make the computer calculate birth dates from the "78 years 8 months 2 days" kinds of notations on gravestones. That's a fairly common part of any genealogical software program now. I didn't even have to suggest it to anyone because I was sure if I had thought it would be nice to have, probably many others had already thought the same thing.
For just this reason--finding new and more efficient ways of accomplishing research tasks--two magazines and various annual conferences exist to familiarize the general genealogical population with current advances in genealogical computing.
The two magazines, one published in Britain, and the other as part of Ancestry.com's publishing array is created in the U.S. The British offering is "Computers in Genealogy" (CiG) and is a quarterly publication of the Society of Genealogists. The U.S. publication is "Genealogical Computing" (GC) and is published quarterly also, at $22.95/year.
In March 2004 BYU held its Computerized Genealogy Conference.
In his opening remarks, Steve Olsen, managing director of the Family and Church History Department, informed those present of the current status of the LDS Church History portion of the lds.org Web site. Full-text information on the Mormon pioneer emigrants who traveled west to Utah from 1847 through 1868 can be found at this site. This includes some 40,000 pioneer names. Even more intriguing is that the site identifies sources to consult which provide more detail about the experience of each individual company. To access this site, visit lds.org, look to the left of the screen in the dark blue column, and find the Church History link. A click here will take you to the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel icon. Upon arrival at that page, a search feature allows you to look for a pioneer name or browse the list of companies either by company name (alphabetically) or dates the company traveled (chronologically).
An exciting feature of this site is that, if you find your ancestor, you may also find links to journal accounts written if not by your own ancestor, by those who traveled in the company. The project is still ongoing, making more and more pioneer journals available online. If you have such a pioneer journal that is unavailable elsewhere, I'm sure Steve Olsen would be happy to hear from you!
Not only new databases and Web sites are previewed or detailed at these conferences. New devices come in for their share of exposure.
At the BYU conference in March Alan E. Mann reviewed a mind-blowing device. Too expensive currently for home use, this fantastic new (and very expensive) machine scans each page of a book, turns the pages itself, and converts the image into recognizable text. But that's not all! Every word of the book is then indexed and linked the scanned page entry. All this is done automatically, without human intervention except for beginning the operation by providing the scanner with the book and removing it when it's finished!
With such a device now available to libraries and archives all over the world, be prepared for a huge deluge of full-text books to be made available online in the fairly immediate future. It is likely these books will require either a subscription or flat-rate fee for access, but the savings in time, travel or effort for genealogists could be enormous.
More on the newest in computer genealogy will be covered in my next column, so stay tuned!