"Doing Research" (cc) by Viewoftheworld at Flickr

“Doing Research” (cc) by Viewoftheworld at Flickr

I’ve slacked a bit on the blog front, but a few motivational things have been pushing forward at the same time:

WDYTYA? — While NBC is currently rerunning some of the Season 2 episodes of the US edition of Who Do You Think You Are?, I’ve been watching my own DVD reruns of some favorite BBC editions, such as:

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25 February 2011 | Tags: ,
Who Do You Think You Are? titlecard

Who Do You Think You Are? titlecard

As a long-time viewer of the BBC edition of Who Do You Think You Are?, which has broadcast sixty episodes over seven seasons so far1, I recognized tonight’s episode featuring Kim Cattrall as an edited version of a BBC episode from 2009 (Series 6).

As fans of PBS may be aware, hour-long BBC originals are aired with no commercial breaks, at about 55 minutes running time.  Since the American edition has the typical set of advertisements and brief “coming up” clips, it has a running time of under 50 minutes, requiring some edits to fit the shorter schedule.

The major differences in this episode were:

  • All narration was dubbed for continuity of using the same narrator as the other American episodes.  This also allowed shorter segues and also may have served to remove references to edited clips.  When the BBC aired the first season of the American episodes late last year, they similarly dubbed them with their British narrator.
  • When her married grandfather disappeared from his family, the starting point of this episode’s search, he first attempted to travel to the United States as a stowaway — checked on a possible lead from Ms. Cattrall’s mother — and was forced to return to England when he was caught.  While he listed himself in the passenger list as single, a curious contradiction included mentioning a wife and refusing further information.  This clip was excised from this version, but a portion of it appears on the NBC website as a “Featured Video” extra.
  • After Ms. Cattrall learned of her grandfather’s bigamy upon returning to England, she first spoke with a legal historian to learn of contemporary motives for not divorcing — heavy travel and trial expenses, as well as divorce law being mostly based on fault — and the penalties if caught for the crime of bigamy — up to seven years of prison, a fine, or both.  This was also cut from the NBC version, a portion appearing on the website as an extra video.

If NBC releases the second season on DVD — the first season has been announced for release next month — I hope they include at least these deleted clips as extras, or as part of an “extended” (more accurately “restored”) longer episode.  They include historical context that I felt was missing in the local version after having seen the imported original.

For other reviews and blog mentions, see the GeneaBloggers widget listing mentions of this week’s show.

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1 While there have been sixty episodes of BBC originals over seven series, six of the series released on European Region-2-encoded DVD, they may also be tallied as sixty-seven episodes over eight series when including their rebroadcast of the US version with over-dubbed British narration.  These numbers increase further when adding episodes from other Who You Think You Are? franchise editions not yet announced or released on DVD, including eighteen (and counting) Australian episodes, thirteen Canadian episodes, and twelve Irish episodes.

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22 February 2011 | Tags: , ,

Have you ever had a problem visualizing how a direct or collateral relation fits in to a chart?  Many genealogical programs offer ways to show this with direct lines, but a rare few do so with collateral family.  Even fewer take an English description and attempt to chart it out graphically.

Enter Wolfram’s Mathematica (also online as Wolfram|Alpha),  a “Computational Knowledge Engine” designed for on-the-fly computations of a variety of subjects.  Instead of finding the best indexed matches among already-published web pages, Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha take the entered text and calculates a mathematical or other scientific chart.  And since genealogy is a social science, there are ways to utilize this software for our needs, too.

For example, a result for something direct like “second cousin” results in two charts:

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin Chart

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin Chart

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin Blood Relationship

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin Blood Relationship

Wolfram Alpha LLC. 2011. Wolfram|Alpha. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=second+cousin (accessed 22 February 2011).

If you don’t know the standard name of a relation, it can help with that, too.  One of the site’s tour examples, “father’s mother’s sister’s son,” reveals a brief chart for “first cousin once removed” (pictured as part of the above sample).

It gets harder to chart English phrases in common genealogical software in the collateral lines, even something more obvious like “cousin of cousin”, or a more separated one I mentioned back in the “The Date You Were Born” post, “second-cousin’s husband’s granduncle”:

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin's Husband's Granduncle Chart

Wolfram|Alfa Second Cousin’s Husband’s Granduncle Chart

Wolfram Alpha LLC. 2011. Wolfram|Alpha. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=second+cousin’s+husband’s+granduncle (accessed 22 February 2011).

As you can see here, larger charts might have labels that overlap, but this may be resolvable in the commercial “Mathematica” software — be sure to check their Terms for uses that require the commercial license. I don’t have that so haven’t tested at that level for this introduction.

There are some limitations or glitches in lesser-recognized patterns.  Sometimes “spouse” works better than “husband” or “wife” in collateral attempts.  Because only one direct path is shown as a graphical example, “10th great grandfather” shows only one possible line instead of the 2,098 possible patterns; “11th” and higher generations step down to simply “grandfather” for the computations in the free web version.  Famous battles like “Battle of Hastings” show a few links to related topics like “Harold Godwinson,” “William the Conqueror,” “October 14, 1066 AD,” and others, with a brief dot in a timeline; lesser discussed battles like “Battle at Stamford Bridge” (historically just before Hastings) reveal a single odd link to the category “Soccer”.

But other interesting brief charts are available, such as:

  • See charts of the prevalence of given names or surnames with the tag “name”, for instance “name John” or “name Smith”, along with some alternative spellings or nicknames that may help match other records.
  • Compare name prevalence charts with commas, such as “Eric, Larry, John”.
  • Show a simple timeline of historical countries the same way, such as, “Roman Empire, Frankish Empire, East Francia, Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of Bavaria”. (An odd glitch, “Germany” doesn’t add the next step in that example’s history.)
  • Compute currency through history, such as “$100 (1900 dollars)”.

So, check out Wolfram|Alpha and see if there’s a hint at something helpful in your searches of historical information.  Have you found anything there that was difficult to come by in other searches?  Let me know in the comments.

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15 February 2011 | Tags: , , ,

This past holiday season, Microsoft aired a warning about the future of family photographs by trying to convince people to use editing software to lie.

Frame from Microsoft 7 "To the Cloud" TV Spot

Frame from Microsoft 7 “To the Cloud” TV Spot

A family fidgeted on a couch, annoyingly looking to the side, looking down while texting, sticking an action figure in an ear, “Dad” getting up to remove said action figure. And “Mom”, after taking the photos, casually used software to change heads among the shots, “and swap in some smiles.” She then went on to publish it online (Facebook).

I can only imagine what that family would be like during the earliest years of photography, when people had to hold still for 20-30 minutes — a major explanation for the seated, leaning, and flat-stare photos of the time. At least portrait painters and their subjects could take breaks between multiple sittings.

Family photos are meant to represent the true images of the family at that moment. Certain things that had traditionally been done in the darkroom — adjusting spot or whole-shot exposures, for example — don’t affect that, though others can. Modern methods like “red eye correction” (a compromise for on-camera flash effects) might approach an ethical line, particularly if it changes the subject’s visible iris color.

Texas Monthly, July 1992

Texas Monthly, July 1992

The fashion industry prompted much of this through the years. Plenty of sites detail the before-and-after efforts to make an image of a model “perfect” for publication, sometimes to humorous effect. It’s even worse when it happens in the guise of news profiles, where the breaches are more than only artistic.

There are too many other examples, but the swapped heads of this TV spot brought to mind one in particular. A published composite of the swapped head of former Texas Governor Ann Richards and a model on a motorcycle brought up ethical concerns over photographic lies. John Long, National Press Photographers Association Ethics Co-Chair, responded (in the linked NPPA article, “Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography”):

“[M]y feeling is that no amount of captioning can forgive a visual lie. […] We have an obligation to history to leave behind us a collection of real photographs.”

While Richards herself stated that she liked the cover, that doesn’t make it true.

As family historians, this casual shrugging off of real photographs and preference for the lie of digital head swapping should give us a significant pause. How long will it be before clothing, hair styles, accessories, and background become insufficient to approximate the date of the uncaptioned photos in our collections? Instead of the obvious cut-photo collages of the past, we’re in the era when we need to look closely at necklines and other signals in the photos themselves for evidence of tampering.

According to the TV spot, these days software, “gives me the family nature never could.”

I just heard memories of my grandfather scoffing at such phoniness: “Ah, puppets!”

What do you think? Do you prefer your family photos to be fashion-“perfect” alterations, or historically “real”?

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12 February 2011 | Tags:

From Genea-Musings comes a bit of a catch-up Saturday Night Genealogy Fun prompt:

1) What day of the week were you born? Tell us how you found out.
2) What has happened in recorded history on your birth date (day and month)? Tell us how you found out, and list five events.
3)  What famous people have been born on your birth date?  Tell us how you found out, and list five of them.

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1. 6 January 19— was a Tuesday.

2.  The 6th of January is otherwise well-known as “Twelfth Day” (the previous night being “Twelfth Night”) and celebrated in Western Christianity as the Epiphany, a feast commemorating the visitation of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Some historical 6 January moments from a combination of Brainy History and Wikipedia:

3. Famous 6 January births (from the same lists):

Bonus collateral family same-birthday hit:

  • 1901 – Charlie Ertel (Wisconsin, USA), a paternal second-cousin’s husband’s granduncle

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“When a nation goes down or a society perishes, one condition may always be found — They forgot where they came from.”
~ Carl Sandberg (attribution unknown)

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