Ancestral Disaster Planning

What a haunting and fascinating story — a look at centuries-old stone markers in Japanese coastal towns, documenting and warning about the devastation of tsunamis.

“Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point,” warns a stone tablet in the hamlet of Aneyoshi. As the Associated Press reports, many villagers heeded this advice. One man said his family moved their inn to higher ground a century ago — Aneyoshi was pummeled by a huge wave in 1896.

Some of the markers, like the one at Aneyoshi, were meant to function as yardsticks. Others simply memorialized past disasters and warned of the need to be vigilant.

Longtime coastal residents, as well as scholars who have studied the old tablets, note that the last serious tsunami to hit Japan was in 1960, and even that was relatively weak, generated by an earthquake off the coast of Chile. Those who experienced Japan’s most powerful tsunamis previous to this died years ago. And, as scholars have noted, in many places the old warning markers went unheeded.

“It takes about three generations to forget,” one expert said.

Read the whole thing.

Endangered Species?

Are genealogy software programs “going the way of the dodo”?

This comes by way of a recent item in the San Francisco Chronicle’s technology q&a column. The question concerned which genealogy software to use. The answer failed to make an important distinction: Research aid or research repository? is a classic research aid. You can mine acres of information there: census results, Social Security numbers, city-directory entries, military enlistment records, and on and on.

Once you have your data, you need to put it somewhere — in a notebook, or, of course, on a computer. Genealogy programs are classic repositories. On the most basic level, they give you a family tree to fill in. You could also store family photographs, fill in reference notes and make detailed biographical notes about your ancestors, to name a few examples.

Can you do this stuff on, too?

Yep. provides an interface to record and share the results you get from their databases, as well as from other, non-Ancestry sources. On the upside, it’s quite elegant to have everything in one place. When you find a nugget of information on Ancestry’s databases, it’s a snap to save it to your online family tree. And if your laptop goes sour on you, your research is safely stored online.

Should you do this at Ancestry? Um, maybe. There are certain downsides, as others besides myself have pointed out.

1. Your research will be pasted into other people’s trees without attribution. It just will. Not everyone does this! Just lots of everyone. You have to decide how you feel about it. Some believe passionately that genealogy research is useless if not shared, and are willing to trade exclusivity for a chance to connect with distant cousins who might see a public, online tree. Others feel less charitable when those cheery, wiggly Ancestry-leaf “hints” show up on their trees and link back to their own (uncredited) research.

2. Worse: Your research MISTAKES  will be picked up and perpetuated. That’s why I took my public tree private — I realized some stuff I had parked there to “hold” while I evaluated it was being passed along uncritically. Now a couple of key “facts” that are actually “wrong”  keep recirculating like Sunday pot-roast leftovers that refuse to be eaten. Yes, I was naive. I don’t treat online trees like primary sources, so I didn’t realize anyone would think of my tree that way.  Well, duhhh, as my 9-year-old says.

3. What if you can’t afford your Ancestry subscription any more? The good news: Your tree doesn’t disappear on you. You can still view and edit it as a guest. You can also export it or invite others to view it, as well as add or delete photos, stories, audio or videos. However, without an subscription, you can’t view the subscription-only database records attached to it, so your online tree’s functionality is somewhat diminished.

4. Ancestry. Is. Not. Cheap. Honestly, the cost is so often mentioned in passing, as if a couple hundred bucks a year is a minor inconvenience. Some might forgo this in favor of a one-time investment for genealogy notation software, and access Ancestry at the library.

At the moment, the core of my family history research is contained in my Reunion 9.0 program on my Mac laptop. This is not my be-all and end-all solution. I dislike the vulnerability. I’ve lost a hard drive unexpectedly. I didn’t lose years of research because I back up, but the charms of an online compilation are obvious.

But the charms of an compilation are not necessarily as obvious. The whole question is rather more thorny and nuanced than declaring genealogy software dead and calling it a day.

Links, 4.4.11

Well, I see we all made it through April Fool’s Day more or less unscathed. Can I confess something? After the third GOTCHA! prank article on one of my favorite local-news sites, I was wishing the stupid day had never been invented. Full disclosure: It was probably poetic justice. I did play a prank on Mr. Archaelogist, involving a substitution of lukewarm water for the coffee in the coffeepot (quickly replaced again by the real thing, I promise!). I’m going to be good next year.

Tour operations: Brooklyn, N.Y. -based Urban Oyster, a tour/event planning firm, has come up with a perfectly ingenious idea: custom family-history tours. The company got inspired when a client asked them to help plan a tour for his family’s reunion, the New York Daily News reports.

By the book: And if you’re doing your own trip planning: Make your own guide book, as this article suggests. The specific tips are tried and true, but the idea of compiling the information in such a way that it could double as a memory book later is a good one.

Beginner’s paradise: Connecticut genealogist Beth Mariotti gave a charmer of an interview to TV station WTNH, competently outlining research basics and illuminating her points with examples from her own research, including a case study of a 104-year-old client who wanted help recording family history for her children. Beginners will love the clear pointers and more experienced researchers shouldn’t miss the anecdotes!

Picking a program: A question that has plagued many of us at one point or another: Should I Be Committed? wonders Nancy Shively at Family Tree University. Nancy is referring to making a commitment to genealogy software, and provides an overview of what she’s tested for those who haven’t locked into something yet.

Birthdate pangs: Yuma Sun columnist Amy Crawford writes amusingly about the case of her grandfather’s three ages — a classic conflicting-birthdate riddle. I totally sympathize.

Poisonous discovery: Oh, my goodness! Writer Kay Hoflander goes poking around in her family tree and finds a real-life tale of arsenic and old lace. Trust me, it’s a doozy.

Professional help: Everyone wrestles with it sooner or later when faced with a tricky genealogy problem: Should I hire a pro to take a whack at it? Daniel Klein, who writes a very good genealogy column for the Jersey Journal, provides a concise and clear set of pointers for those who decide to take this step.

April is here at last. For those of us in the Northeast, a good time to cut away the underbrush in the garden, not to mention in our genealogy programs. Enjoy the week.


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