Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Genealogy Gem for a Website

Ever since I launched my Ferguson One-Name website some 3 years ago, I have not been very happy with the Family Group style web pages compiled from Legacy, nor did I really like the output from TNG Software. So, I have regularly browsed the web to look for an alternative.

At last, I think I have found it in HuMo-gen which is made by Hubb Mons, who says: "I originally wrote this software for myself, because I was dissatisfied with the features of other Gedcom-to-HTML converters, but I readily offer HuMo-gen for use by the wider public". Exactly my thoughts!!

And furthermore it is free, open source software. What more could one ask for?!

You can select what to include on the Main Index (Opening Page), as shown below:

Whilst it is written in PHP, it is claimed that no knowledge of PHP or HTML is required in order to use the program. I agree, in fact anybody used to Wordpress will find it very easy.

This shows the options available from within the program, but with only a little knowledge of PHP and HTML one can easily customise this page to include other items, for example a picture of oneself, or maybe a brief description of the site. On this page there is also a Person Search Box.

It is possible to select various levels of permissions, for example one can limit the display of Sources, to say, oneself, or family etc. or, as I do, publish them for all to see, as on the right.

Clicking the filing card icon next to the name produces as a range of other options, such as different report formats, and a range of tree charts. From these charts clicking a name will go to the report for that person.

As can be seen, the sources on this screen are links and these lead to others who use this source.

I think that this software is relatively new, from the HuMo-gen website I would think around 2009, so are there any snags? Well, yes, but none are terribly important and most can easily be overcome, some are specific to its use with Legacy. Like similar programs which rely on importing GEDCOMs it suffers from the limitations of the long outdated technology of this format.

For my usage, the fields for the genealogy sources are too short, but should be easy to enlarge in the MySQL database (I haven't done this yet). The PHP scripts are, understandably, largely in Dutch which makes following them more difficult for those of us who do not speak this language (I am not monolingual btw.) and in the Sources List, the descriptions have yet to be translated, but nevertheless the meaning of them is pretty clear.

I recommend that anyone trying this program should first try it on their own PC and not the web. This involves installing a stand-alone server and the manual gives a full description of how to to this for XAMPP-lite. This also a free open-source application. Be prepared to do some work for yourself to get the output to that which you wish, but if you do hit problems the site has a Forum which I have found to be very responsive and helpful.

I have yet to put my site on-line using HuMo-gen, but only because I wish to fully familiarise myself with its workings, and I will do so at the end of December. To those, who like me, are not happy with what has been around for a while, I would say "give it a run".

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Genealogy Patience Pays!!

We all know of the seemingly impenetrable brick walls which we bump into on a fairly regular basis. I hit one one these with my 4th great-grandfather, Benjamin Ferguson, who, according to the 1841 census was living in Kendal, and born in 1766 in England but not in the county of Westmorland. He did not appear on the 1851 census, so I assumed that he had moved on to higher things.

Over the years I have tried to find out more about him, visiting the Kendal Archives to find his burial, but without any luck, in fact I cannot even find the christenings of his children in the Kendal Parish Registers. My research has not been helped by the fact that northern England is an outpost of internet indexing, meaning that the Union Tavern in Kendal is almost a second home!

Regularly I search new registers which come on-line, and three months ago I had a minor break through, I found a Benjamin Ferguson born in 1776 in Pardshaw, Cockermouth, Cumberland, on the Beta Family Search site. OK, the surname was spelt "Furgison", but the given names of the family were those commonly found in my family. Could this be my long lost relative? With still some way to go, I contacted Kendal Archives again to see if they had the Kendal Settlement Certificates for the period between 1770 and 1790, but unfortunately they only had those to 1734.

Every now and again I switch the main search site which I use, and this month moved back to Findmypast. As always, I carried out a quick check on my brick walls and nearly fell off my chair when I found my Benjamin on the 1851 census living with his, now married, daughter Mary Airey, of whom I had never heard! This time his surname was given as "Ferginson" and his place of birth Cockermouth - Eureka!! I am left with another brick wall though - where does his father "Samual Furgison" (sic), date of birth unknown, come from??

Advances can happen in most unusual ways. Like many of you I try and help other researchers whenever I can, and this week received an email asking if an Ann Owen born 1807, father George, had any connection with the Owen family of Prescot, Lancashire, in my tree. Not having an Ann in my Owen family I asked for more details, only to be be told that since her Ann and my family came from the same area she wondered if there may be a connection.

A Richard Owen born 1791 is my one of the 3rd great grandfathers on my maternal side, and I wondered if Richard might have had a brother called George who might have been Ann's father. I have not even looked at this side of my family for years, so I started by looking for his birth in Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk, and there was his christening, and the names of my previously unknown 4th great grandparents.

Yes, persistence does pay, as time goes by it may not seem like it, but consistently checking records and revisiting sites which may well have been updated since last time often brings results. Now, if only I could get my hands on the person who ignited the 1851 Salford Census records and with it my 3rd great grandfather's history, but congratulations to Manchester & Lancashire FHS who have recovered so much of them.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Are Genealogy Fairs Worthwhile?

Although I have been involved in genealogy for some 10 years for various reasons I have not visited Genealogy Fairs until this year. I have attended fairs at Stockport, York and Newcastle on Tyne, and broadly speaking my reaction has been favourable. But why?

Visiting the various companies displaying their software, books, charts etc. is interesting, but hardly earth shattering, although I have usually found two or three things which are of use to me, usually books or specific data discs. If  I was asked whether I would go specifically to have a look at the wares on sale, then probably not.

No, what has been of most use has been the help available from "information providers". Whilst companies such as Ancestry, Findmypast, and The Genealogist are frequently represented at these fairs, it is not these to which I refer, largely because I am reasonably familiar with their range of services, but I do recognize that they will be valuable to those who are not. Their stands are always very busy, maybe because they often offer free access!

What I find most attractive are the genealogy organisations, the local family history societies and national organisations, such as The Genealogy Society, Local and National Archives, and many others, strictly speaking some may not be genealogy societies but concern themselves with aspects of out history, eg. The Indian Army. Following my visit to the York Fair, I am pretty sure that I have found my 5th great-grandfather from an idea I picked up at a local fhs stall.

If you are considering going to one of these fairs my recommendation would be to look carefully at which societies will be exhibiting rather than at the commercial concerns who, in general, will be there anyhow. Look for family history societies and local archivists from the areas in which you are researching. The national organisations can also give invaluable advice on where to look for information.

Finally, before going do ensure that you have noted exactly what you need to know. There is nothing worse than going to a stall and not be able to remember a name or place. Take my word for it - I know!

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Sunday, 22 August 2010

English & Welsh Birth Registration

Birth registrations are of great importance when studying genealogy, and for this reason I looked at the total registrations for the Fergusons as part of my Ferguson one-name study.

Initially, I examined the total births, given in Free BMD, which showed an increase between the years 1841 and 1910, tending to flatten off after about 1880. I then looked at the percentage change in the birth rate in 10 year blocks, using 1841-1850 as the base point. I was shocked! The graph on the right show an increase in the rate of growth from around 25% to 28% up to 1881 and then a massive fall to an average of around 6% thereafter. Why?

My first thought was that because birth registration was not compulsory until 1872, more and more people were registering up to that date, and then the rate levelled off, but I could not believe this. So could it be due to immigration from Ireland and Scotland?

To check this, I looked at my brother-in-law's family, the Grimshaws, a family which I know to have been English born and bred from at least the 16th century. His graph showed a steady decline, even going negative at one point! My next step was to compare these results for the total registered births and the censuses (from the ONS) between 1841 and 1910/11. The results are shown in the graph below:

Interestingly, the path taken by the rate of change for my Fergusons follows that of the total births for England and Wales (T%Change), although the changes for the Fergusons are much more pronounced before 1891. The Grimshaw results seem to be completely anomalous, Alan Grimshaw swears that this is due to an extremely high level of female births in his family!

It is also of interest that the changes in the birth rates and censuses follow the same trend until 1880 when they, arguably, diverge. It is said that both the censuses and birth registrations understated the true figures for this period and by the fall in the rate of change post 1880/81 this does seem to be the case.

To summarise, we may conclude that prior to birth registrations becoming compulsory there was significant under registration, and, similarly, the censuses did not settle down until after 1881 (and we know that even after that they were incomplete). The high figure for the rate of births for the Fergusons can only, therefore, be explained by immigration from Ireland and Scotland, and this factor, I would suggest, should also be applied when considering others with a name associated with these countries.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Create a Search Engine Sitemap

Although my genealogy website has been on line for many years I have not bothered to include an XML Sitemap for use by search engines, although, naturally, I had a sitemap for humans. However, to have a decent ranking it is becoming more important that an XML sitemap is included, especially for Google and Bing.

Naturally, being a genealogist, I am a reluctant payer, and I searched for a free sitemap creation program. I could not get the Google Sitemap Creator to install on my PC, so I looked at site after site using Google, all of which had a limit on their free entries of between 500 and, say, 3000 pages. I have almost 9,000 pages on my site, so they were not of much use. I then came across Xenu.

Unlike the other programs which created the sitemap on-line, with Xeno you download the program, and run it on your own PC, which was when I realised that there was an unexpected bonus with this program, it has a Link Checker! Actually, this may be the main function of the program, but by this time I was suffering from tunnel vision! So I ran it, and it tested the links on my 8,600 pages in 44 minutes, identifying a number of broken links of which I was unaware - brilliant.

The XML Search Engine Sitemap was created in no time at all, and I uploaded it to the root of my site and submitted it to every Search Engine I knew. I now await with interest to see if the visits to my site increase. The program also produces a report of its activities whilst searching your pages but, probably because of the size and depth of my site, it took far too long for me to wait until it completed its work.

It was never my intention to use this Blog to promote software, however I am making this exception for Xeno because (a) it is free and (b) it is perfect for the job I wanted it to do, and more. I rank this program as my "Find of the year".

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Your Genealogy Websites and Mobiles

From the day when mobile phones first came onto the market I have avoided them! I didn't want them intruding into my private life, and that of others in public areas. A definite No, No! However, technology catches up with us all, and for a while I have been watching the growth of the internet on mobiles. A month ago I asked a friend if I could view my home page on his mobile, only to see that it split! Nothing for it - I had to buy one, not an iphone, I might add, but an economical windows.

The image on the right shows my index page after I had made a number of changes to the coding and you may like to compare it with the PC version at My Website. In this view it is now not too bad, and can be scrolled to the left to see the off-screen portion, and if the phone is rotated to a horizontal position then it fits fine.

There are still some problems, the left hand column is pushed left, so is partly obscured by the background, and if the view is enlarged then the Guild of One-Name Studies blue logo pushes the footer down so that a brown background space appears.


The page was already built with the design being separate from the content using CSS, which fortunately makes changes easier, and there were quite a number to make. When designing the site I had only given consideration to the appearance when the width is not less than 800px, with mobiles we are talking about a maximum of 480px - quite a difference, and as a result the above is a compromise, as I was not willing to change the overall design of the PC version. For example the tree image is a background-image called by the CSS and not the HTML which means that its proportions relative to the space available cannot be changed, hence the left-hand column being partially obscured.

What I was able to do though, was to convert all the font and image sizes to ems so that they would change proportionately. Similarly the margins and spaces were also changed from pixels to ems and the overflow for the two columns was changed to "hidden". Unfortunately the Guild logo is already in place before the hidden statement kicks in, hence the brown space mentioned above.

The Problems

They are just presentational problems, but the main one is that mobiles do not have a hover state, which is unfortunate because my CSS based navigation comprises drop-down menus hidden in the blue bar, Sure, when the bar is tapped they drop-down OK, but they do not respond when tapped as the site is already on its merry way to the default link for each header! There is no way that I wish to change the navigation on the main site.

What Now

It is clear that the only way I can resolve the navigation is to write an app style navigation system to replace the drop-down menus for each of the sections for which they apply. It is a little more complex than this, though, as my main site has around 7000 pages which currently use my "blue bar" navigation I would like all to be accessible from a mobile. As far as I can see, this means that I am going to have to design a separate app style navigation linking back to the main and sub menus.


I hope that I might have given some thoughts which may help those considering a similar project, and would welcome comments on my proposed app style navigation.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Genealogy Websites are Boring!

So said a recent tweeter. My instinctive reaction was that part of the problem was that the designers are trying to cater for the higher proportion than average of genealogists who still use IE6. But on reflection I think this to be unfair.

Is it True?

I made the basic assumption that the comment did not refer to the research aids, such as, so over the past month I have made a point of looking at many genealogists' own sites. and, regrettably, I think that it is probably fair comment.

Part of the problem is that the sites are presented by genealogists many of whom, I suspect, have little or no experience of designing and coding websites. Many are, therefore forced to use sites such as Rootsweb, rely on their database program, or use a program which converts a GEDCOM into webpages. This is not a criticism, in fact I applaud the efforts made by all who seek to make their work available to others, and I know how hard they try to overcome the problems which they inevitably meet. Indeed I have used a standard template for this blog!

The image above is of my own website; now I am not a designer but can code, so the design is one which I have put together from looking at pages in books or on-screen. I make no pretence about it being of a high standard, but at least I'm happy with it! I have shown this to illustrate that it is not necessary for all pages to look dull. This is true for the many different types of pages which can be added to a site, for example, forums, blogs, tutorials, biographies etc. etc.


However, I suspect that the tweeter was referring to a lack of dynamic pages, and with the best will in the world, here we have a problem; which is that the family genealogy which we may wish to display basically comprises a list of names and other data. No matter what one does with it, it is still a list. The Next Generation of Genealogy Software, based on PHP and SQL overcomes this by using selections of family trees from which one can link to details of each individual.

My personal favourite is the Pedigree style from Legacy where the notes are included on the same page as the tree, which I prefer, although it is not as dynamic as TNG. It also has another problem in that it requires one page per individual, which means it is not really suitable for very large sites, I currently have around some 6000 such pages. I do include a dynamic family tree, made using DftCom2 based on Java, on a separate page of my site.

When it comes to other formats, Descendant, Ancestor, Family Group, Individual, we are down to lists, they may be formatted differently but they are still lists. For very large sites there may be no alternative other than to use one of these options, or TNG. There are a few other programs but the user experience is similar to those mentioned. I understand some university work is being carried out on alternative formatting, but as yet this has not been taken up.

What can we do?

At present, the best solution would seem to be to create a wide selection of attractive pages to complement the lists of genealogy data from which we hope others will contact us, and hence expand our knowledge and/or trees

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Thursday, 3 June 2010

New - Your Family History Magazine

With Nick Barratt, best known as a lead genealogist in the UK's "Who Do You Think You Are", as Editor-in-Chief we would expect the new Your Family History to provide a high standard of content. The question is: does it live up to expectations?

Priced at a reasonable £3.99 (I do hate 1p change!) contains 74 pages, excluding the cover, about 25 pages less than comparable magazines, and is printed on a heavier paper. The presentation is attractive, but what about the content?


After two issues the pattern is beginning to settle. There are twelve pages of advertising, two pages for the content and another two on news items. A feature I have not noticed elsewhere is a page devoted to media reviews and another four reviewing books, CDs and multimedia. Apart from his editorial Nick Barratt has an opinion page, and there is the usual couple of pages for readers to "Ask the Experts".


Your Family History does not seem to be affiliated to any software or service provider, so I would expect the content to be free and impartial in its presentation. I am less than sure that this is always the case. In the first edition there was a two page article on arcalite on-line storage, and in the second a similar article about using My Heritage Family Tree Builder software, accompanied by a free disk. It is not clear as to whether these are advertorials, or not; specifically, it was the article on the latter which made me wonder, as it played down the necessity to pay the premium to get anything remotely useful. In fairness, later in the publication Peter Christian gives a "warts an' all" comparison of the Premium Account with Family Tree Maker. It would be helpful if the publisher would clarify this.

Some six pages in the first two issues have been devoted to beginners which should prove useful to them (although I did again notice emphasis on My Heritage in the second edition). Whilst it is too early to judge, the section on Local Archives detailed those available in south of England counties (Sussex and Kent). Since the publishers are in the north, perhaps we may hope for more balance in the future. The sections on Casebook, Social History, History Mysteries and The People's Archive provide interesting, and useful, social commentary on past lives or events, as well as giving information on the more unusual reference sources.

Finally, The "How To..." articles covered tracing shipwrecks and the aristocracy (I'm rather glad that they got the latter over with early!) and gave ample references for sources available to enable one to follow up leads in one's own research.


I enjoyed reading the first two issues and hope that Your Family History will continue to provide more specialist information, as in the "How To.." articles, in the future. In general it has a nice balance between content for the beginner, the more experienced, and for general interest. As to whether I will take out a subscription, or just purchase when something interests me, I will withhold judgement for a few more issues.


I have no connection with this magazine, nor any other, nor have I any connection with the software mentioned nor the competitors, although I am a voluntary tester for Legacy.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Monday, 17 May 2010

Family Search - Mapping

Last Saturday I attended the Genealogy Mapping Seminar organised by the Guild of One-Name Studies at which Judy Jones from Family Search gave a presentation on "English Jurisdictions 1851".

What is it? Since mapping is a visual tool, so is this blog. Basically it is a website enabling you to select a town in England, I have chosen Kendal, Westmorland, and show maps of the relevant jurisdictions, with links as to where the information may be found.

The map shows the boundaries of the jurisdictions selected from the Layers option below (some have contiguous boundaries).
The Layers list from which the boundaries in the above map have been selected. Note that for the map, instead of selecting the Ordnance Survey Map for the background I have chosen the more colourful Google Map which can be done elsewhere.

Selecting a jurisdiction on the map gives a bubble which shows general information about it. Including, in the case of Kendal, places within the Parish, the dates records began and non-conformist records.

As can be seen, at the top of the bubble are three tabs, and the second of which is shown below, and the Options on the right.

It can be seen that each tab holds a number of links from which further information may be obtained. My trials using Kendal gave me immediate access to websites and information which had taken me years to accumulate by myself, to say I'm impressed would be like saying chocolate cake is only OK, the system is brilliant!

We were advised that site is not fully operational as yet. but it is available to the public from here. Judy expressed the wish that eventually she hoped that all the new databases which Family Search are developing will be fully interlinked, so the future looks really exciting.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Pin it on Google Earth

I was stimulated to examine whether it was possible to enter location pins onto Google Earth from my Legacy database by two articles written by Howard Mathieson1 who used GenMap as his starting point. Although I have used Legacy which is an Access DB, the method should apply to any DB where the construction is known and accessible.

The method used involves extracting the required details using, putting this into a MySQL DB and using PHP to extract the data in the required format for importing into Earth Plot which will put the pins into Google Earth.

One interesting problem was that Legacy stores location co-ordinates (latitude/longitude) in the format whereas Earth Plot requires them in decimal. A wide search on Google failed to provide a PHP script which made the calculation, so I ended up having to write one! The basic PHP, including this calculation, is given in the Map Using Google Earth tutorial on my FergysWebsite.

This tutorial describes how to use the method to plot the locations of the  Fergusons born before 1902 who are entered into my One-Name DB. Looking towards the future, when I will have many more records - at present there are around 1500 - I would hope to have come up with a way of plotting their movements with respect to time. I suspect that this will not be too easy!


1. Grateful acknowledgement is made to Howard Mathieson for his articles in the Vol 10 Issue 5 and Issue 6 editions of the Journal of One-Name Studies, the quarterly publication of the Guild of One-Name Studies (non-members: £2.00/copy) which stimulated my interest in this subject and introduced me to Earth Plot.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Website Update: Complete!

Finally my revised website is now up and running, and I would like to review some of the lessons which I learned during the process of revising a genealogy site with some 7000 - 8000 pages. This was the first major rewrite for 5 years, during which time coding techniques have changed, and visitors are looking for increasingly greater interaction and usability.

I started thinking about the design in November 2009, with the major changes being to the index pages and applying a common theme throughout the site. The headers for the Pedigree pages and some others I decided to leave, except for colour changes. I have said before, but I will repeat, design is not one of my strengths, so it took two or three weeks before I decided to use a scheme based on the colours of nature, mainly blue, green and brown, with an index page design to suit.

To write and verify the coding took another two months of work (actually three months but one was lost through illness and holidays). I like to work to dead lines, so in November I settled on 1st March for the launch, revised to 1st April, and it actually went on-line on 2nd April.


I recommend taking regular breaks! In the early hours of one morning I was working away trying to get rid of a bug, and nothing which I did seemed to make any difference. I simply could not understand it! Only after a short break did I realise that the screen I was looking at was on-line and not the one I was working on using my PC.

Tools used

The Pedigree pages were created using Legacy modified to CSS with the excellent LTools designed for use with Legacy. For my text (HTML, PHP and CSS) editor I use PSPad which allows batch search and replace. Because I have inserted some PHP in all my Pedigree pages I have to change all the file extensions from .HTML to .PHP using Ken Rename, and, finally, I also have to insert some script into the coding. This can only be done after the previous processing and hence requires the use of Regular Expressions to locate the point of insertion. To batch process I use Actual Search and Replace, but note that it cannot write the search and replace the strings for you!


Arguably this is the most important bit, it is certainly the most time consuming! Because of the use of PHP, I cannot test the Pedigree pages in IE unless it is actually on the web, which is something of a pain. I do, of course, have a folder on the server which I only use for testing purposes, but there always seems to be a difference between how something behaves in that folder and real life!

Links can be tested on-line using the W3C Link Checker, and do remember that for a 404 Error Page all links have to comprise the full URL ie. "http://www...."otherwise even your CSS won't work. This will not quite be the end of it, though, as you, or your visitors, will probably find a few missed bugs for a few days afterwards - make sure they can readily find a way of contacting you!


Ensure a plentiful supply of coffee, and enjoy!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Website Updates: Latest

During the past month it feels like the updating of my website has taken control of my life! The important bits, like the navbars, are working correctly, although they have yet to be tested in browsers other than Firefox and IE.

I am happy with the Index page, my Pedigree pages work, the Tutorials have been completed, as have the Books and Links pages. Yesterday I commenced work on the Photo Albums. During the past year I have taken a number of photos in England and Europe which need to be added to the collections, so I have have decided to split them, on a fairly arbitrary basis to Northern & Southern England, and Central & Southern Europe.

My existing albums were created in flash using SWF Quicker and one of their templates. I considered writing Dynamic CSS based albums, but after consideration, I decided that I couldn't really improve on the Album which I am using. So apart from changing the contents and the background colour I am sticking with what I have.

After this is completed, the next major task will be to transfer my Ferguson One-Name Site to my main site. On the one-name site are over 2000 names, about two thirds of which are Fergusons from northern England, and the format of the pages is that of Family Groups. It also has quite a different background style, so there is much work to be done here.

At present, the remaining eleven days for completion and testing appears to be a remarkably short space of time, so I can imagine a number of sleepless nights between now and the end of the month!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Genealogy Website: The Nav Bars

 A web page can be considered as being built on layers, the first being the base, or blank page, usually white but it can be given a colour. For my new site I have put another, slightly smaller, background layer on top, followed by the data and images. In my case I consider the nav bars as being a new layer since the drop-downs must sit on top of any data and images. One point about images, IE6, and earlier, do not recognise the ".png" transparency. Google will find many scripts to cure this, one of which is to be found here.

To date, I have used javascript for my drop-down menus, however it is now possible to write these in CSS. Unfortunately, because to do this the latest CSS standard is used there are problems with older browsers, in particular with IE6. The image on the right is a sneak preview of a section of my new index page, and as can be seen the drop-down sits on top.

To make them display on top of images is easy, simply use the "z-index" CSS style. However for other image forms it can be quite tricky. For Flash, within the "Object" tag the line < param name="wmode" value="transparent" > needs to be included. IFrames present a different problem, and to date, despite having tested varying "solutions", I have yet to find a way of stopping the nav bars from going behind the image for IE7 and earlier. Still, I've three weeks left!

Now, the above are the easy problems, again it is IE6 which causes the real head ache, because CSS drop-down menus simply do not work! To the rescue comes Suckerfish and the Sons of Suckerfish, which for my purposes I had to modify even further.

In my first Blog in this series I mentioned that I wished to eliminate/minimise the use of javascript, and for the navigation this has largely been achieved. As you will see to get them to work in the early versions of IE, and I no longer bother writing for IE5.5 and earlier, javascript has been a necessity, this I feel is a fair compromise. If those using IE6 do not have javascript enabled the navigation will not work, but it is still possible for visitors to get round the site albeit with more difficulty. (If you are viewing this using IE6, please upgrade, especially as you can now see our headaches!)

My final point concerns testing, I use Firefox for most of my development work and test in IE8, Opera, Safari, Chrome, Sea Monkey and Bing, these I have on my PC. As I do not have a Mac. I rather hope that if it works with Safari it will be OK (not really satisfactory, but there we go!). So how do I test in earlier versions of IE? A nice free piece of kit called IE Tester enables this to be acheived.; although still in Alpha version, and not every bit works fully, it does do the job, and for me is a life saver.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Genealogy Website, New, Improved, & How 2

Everything had been going swimmingly with my new site, until I received from Dennis of Ltools a sneak preview of his forthcoming program update. He has made a couple of alterations to this program which changes the Legacy Pedigree web page output into validating CSS.

One of the functions of this program enables your own custom HTML, which Legacy allows you to incorporate into their code, to be exempted from processing by Ltools. I use this twice on a Pedigree page, for the header and footer. The changes which Dennis has made improve the logic behind the program, but in so doing tighten the way way in which we must write our code. I have detailed the couple of restrictions involved in my tutorial.

Naturally, my coding didn't comply, and since I work on the principle of "only as a last resort read the instructions", it took me a while to sort out what was going on! Basically they are that the start and end tags of an HTML section eg. a <DIV> must both be either inside or outside the custom section, and nesting of comments when using Javascript should be avoided.

The race to get my site update completed by the end of March is now definitely on!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Genealogy Websites: New, Improved, Updated & How

My current site Fergy's Website has been in its current form for over a year, except for the Pedigree pages having been converted to CSS. I commenced work on the new site in November 2009 with a view to launch on 1 March 2010, although this was pushed back to 1 April 2010 mainly due to illness.

What I hope to do over my next few Blogs is to illustrate the objectives and problems and how these were overcome. Please do not think that this is going to be so technical it will over your head, some of it perhaps, but most can be applied with little knowledge of programming.

It is essential to draw up the criteria which need to be met for the revised site, mine are:
  • It must be based on the Legacy Pedigree Web creation function, for no other reason that I really like this layout. I have looked at formats such as The Next Generation, and others, most of which require a GEDCOM upload, but, for me, Legacy was the one.
  • To maximise the use of CSS to separate out the design from the HTML data.
  • To replace the Javascript navigation with CSS, and in general, minimise the use of Javascript.
  • Where possible apply the most modern CSS and HTML standards.
  • To ensure cross-browser compliance, including IE6 - which continues to be used by a surprisingly high percentage of genealogists!
  • To redesign the Index page, which given that I do not pretend to be a designer is no mean feat!
  • To ensure W3C standards are met.
Some of the above aims obviously conflict with each other, so compromises have to be made. These will be described later.

The first problem is that the Legacy Pedigree web pages are not W3C compliant and are written exclusively in HTML. Whilst I had converted the major design components to CSS, to convert all would have meant writing a program to automate this, or using a program which would use Regular Expressions to convert each tag individually - ugh! Unfortunately the first alternative I thought to be beyond my VB.Net programming skills.

However, in 2009 Ltools released a program for Legacy users which validates the HTML and converts all to CSS, and it was this which I used last year to overcome this main stumbling block to achieving a major aim. Some information on the use of this tool is also given in my tutorial here.

The other items will be considered in future Blogs, so watch this space!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Genealogy: Out of a test tube!

I have many reservations about prescriptive answers to genealogy presentations, much preferring them to reflect the rich tapestry of life. However with relationships I am less than certain. This question is not an ethical question, as many types of relationship exist in the real world, as we well know.

At present there is much discussion on how modern relationships, such as same sex partnerships, a surrogate parent and test tube children should be recorded by genealogy software, and much of this discussion has revolved around the differences between "true" genealogy and family history. I would ask are we asking the right question to the right people?

Let us consider the question of web browsers. Until recently (if now) browsers were designed in accordance with the ideas of the company designers. As a consequence web designers have for years suffered in trying to design sites which look the same in all varieties of browser, notwithstanding the existence of world wide web standards. Similarly, are we not in danger of genealogy software companies deciding for us what, in their varied opinions, is the best solution as to how the many types of relationships should be handled? I would suggest that this is not the way forward.

The laws regarding varying relationships differ from country to country, and  it would be wrong, therefore, for any standard to be based on what is legal in any one country, but the laws in most, if not all countries, should be considered. These days genealogy software is international, and surely the time has now arrived for a new approach to be made.

I would suggest that a cooperative venture between the national genealogy societies and the software companies be initiated to develop a format acceptable to most, but preferably all, participants. And who should pay for this? Why not the software companies by releasing their staff to attend meetings and providing the administrative back up, and perhaps supporting the attendance of the voluntary officials of the genealogy societies.

What I would like to see now is a proper international debate on this subject by genealogists and software companies, rather than comments, complaints and suggestions made by users of specific software to their supplier. As we saw from browser development, a standard may not resolve all the problems, but it would, I believe, be a big improvement on the ad-hoc arrangement we have today.

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Genealogy

As we say up north, Martha Lydia seems to have been a bit of of a lass! She was the illegitimate daughter of Margaret who later married Joe, and had three illegitimate children herself before marrying Bill, with whom she had another six children. Whilst the details which follow relate to England, the principles are generally applicable.


One point to remember is that although registration started in 1827, it was voluntary for births and deaths until 1875, so the absence of a certificate is not unusual. For births it is also possible to give a child any name one likes. Our Martha Lydia used her own surname ie. her mother's maiden name, for her first child and that of her step father for the next two. However, She did marry using her own name and left the father's name blank, unlike another illegitimate relative who decided to invent a deceased father when he got married.

In the great English tradition of telling officials what one thinks they would like to hear, where there was a disparity in ages between the couple, or maybe one of them is a little too young for marriage without parental consent, then some age adjustment was perfectly acceptable. Whilst talking about ages, an age at death is that which the reporter of the death thinks it is, which need not necessarily be the chronological age.


A census provides an excellent opportunity for the head of a household to demonstrate their creativity. To come back to Martha Lydia, her stepfather came from a very religious family and it simply would not do for illegitimacy to be 'exposed' on a census return! This was resolved by giving the children the same surname as his, and describing them as "son" and "daughters". It was only after Joe died that Margaret recorded the true relationship.

Ages on censuses suffer from many variables, there are those whose increasing age is not related to the passage of time, and others where an accurate disclosure would reveal an illegal act. In particular, during the mid 1800s there were the Factory Acts which increased the minimum working age and restricted the hours of work. Naturally, the age of working juveniles had to comply with the law.

During the 19th century, divorce was the prerogative of the rich, bigamy was not uncommon, and clearly did not show on censuses. Even where there was no bigamous marriage partners would be recorded as a spouse, or maybe a 'housekeeper'. It was, of course, incumbent on all to maintain Victorian standards of morality.

Armed Forces Registration

Surely the details given on registration for service in the armed forces will be accurate? Well, no, especially during the first world war. At this time there was much peer pressure to serve 'King and Country' and there are many recorded instances of people enlisting and inflating their age in order to be eligible to join up and serve overseas.


Even excluding those so called genealogists whose aim to to prove that they are descended from royalty, rather than to establish the truth, personal family trees must be treated with extreme care. Genealogist may well publish trees in which they clearly state that a relationship is a probability rather than an established fact, but by the time it has been copied and recopied by those who exercise less care this probability has been transcribed into the definitive family history.

With respect to censuses the images which we see, prior to 1911, are transcriptions and are, therefore, subject to both enumerator's and transcriber's errors. Certificates are written by an official, who might be ecclesiastical or civil, and particularly during the period when illiteracy was high the spelling of names is likely to be phonetic.

© Ron Ferguson 2010