Posts Tagged ‘Family History Technology Workshop’

My Best Genealogy Moment of 2009

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
The Harman Continuing Education Building on the BYU campus (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

The Harman Building (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

I’m a day late with my response to Randy Seaver’s weekly “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” challenge. But when I saw that Thomas McEntee was too, I figured I’d go ahead and still be in good company.

My best genealogy moment of 2009 occurred as I sat at Genlighten’s exhibit booth at the BYU Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy back in March. It dawned on me suddenly that I had come full circle as a genealogy software vendor.

Twenty-six years before, I had attended one of the first versions of that same conference in the very same Caroline Hemenway Harman building on the BYU campus. Back then, as a newlywed sophomore majoring in Physics, I hoped to offer my first-generation Apple IIe-compatible Family Tree software (tentative title: “N-Gen”) for sale at the conference. But when I took one look at the competition, I knew I was completely out of my league. It was obvious to me that I didn’t know the first thing about marketing a useful product to the genealogy community. [Do I know any more now? I sure hope so!]

Now fast-forward to March of 2009: I’ve long since graduated from BYU, and I’m back at that same conference, once again surrounded by intimidating competitors, but this time as a reasonably legitimate vendor of a fledgling genealogy software product. Heady stuff. Scary, too. But I allowed myself to luxuriate in a rare moment of unabashed self-confidence. This time I would not go so quietly into the night of startup failure, I vowed softly.

The two times in my life I’ve launched entrepreneurial ventures, once as a twenty-something, and now again as a late forty-something, they’ve both had genealogy research at their core. It’s obviously got a powerful hold on me!

Low-Cost, On-Demand Film Digitization and Online Delivery

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I was excited to read the title for Matt Garners’s talk in the schedule for the BYU Family History Technology Workshop.  He’s from FindMyPast.com.  His presentation focused on an inexpensive automated scanning system that would allow an individual to sponsor the digitization of an entire role of microfilm that they wanted to be able to search online.  Here’s his abstract:

Hundreds of millions of pages of microfilmed historical documents are not being digitized at this time due to insufficient individual demand to garner appropriate commercial attention and investment. This paper demonstrates that the cost of digitisation and online delivery can be lowered dramatically using a novel application of recent technological advancements in imaging, data processing and storage.  A business model is presented such that an on-demand service can be provided whereby an individual end user can afford to personally sponsor the digitisation and online delivery of an entire reel of film.

Understandably, I perceived this idea through the lens of our own startup. In effect, what we do is allow individuals to obtain low-cost, on-demand digitization and online delivery of individual documents — even if those documents haven’t yet been microfilmed. I’m grateful to Matt for giving me a new perspective on Genlighten’s value proposition. And for his work to develop an extremely cool scanner… in his garage!

Genealogy: 20 Minutes per Week

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I have a difficult time staying on track with my family history research.  I’ll spend a few hours at it one evening and make some real progress, but by the time I get back to it three weeks later I’ve forgotten where I left off.  As a result, I don’t move forward as efficiently as I could.

I started Genlighten as a partial solution to this challenge.  I hope to reduce the momentum-stealing wait for records held by remote repositories from about 4-6 weeks to more like 4-6 days.  The key to this is building out a network of local researchers with access to those repositories who can retrieve genealogical documents quickly (and affordably.)

Charles Knutson of BYU’s Computer Science Department is building a tool that offers a different solution to the problem of maintaining momentum in genealogy research. He gave a marvelous talk during lunch at the Family History Technology Workshop on Thursday entitled “What Was I Thinking About?  The Dilemma of the Part-Time Genealogist”.  The research paper he based his talk on begins with this abstract:

“What can you possibly do to be productive as a family history researcher in 20 minutes per week?  Our studies suggest that currently the answer is, “Nothing.” In 20 minutes a would-be researcher can’t even remember what happened last week, let alone what they were planning to do next.”

The software engineering class he teaches works each semester to develop “The 20-Minute Genealogist”, a software application that will act as a genealogist’s research companion. Log in and the program will remind you where you left off in your research last week.  It will also suggest promising directions you could pursue today, based on what you were working on before.

This impresses me as a truly innovative and exciting idea. It will be difficult to implement, but tremendously valuable. It sounds like they eventually plan to integrate it into NewFamilySearch several years from now.

In the meantime, I think this idea represents a marvelous business opportunity for a genealogy-savvy startup to tackle.  Prof. Knutson has a company associated with his class already, but I imagine he would welcome some competition.

His course page is available here.