Review: County-Clerks.com

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Recently I, along with many other genealogy bloggers, received a series of emails from a new website called County-Clerks.com (http://www.county-clerks.com). One email asked that I post a link to County-Clerks.com on GeneaBloggers as a resource for my readers. Another asked me to participate in a “Genealogy Blog Contest” and vote for my favorite genealogy blog; of course the email started out with pure flattery, stating that I had been listed as one of the top 200 genealogy blogs.

In addition I’ve had several comments made on posts here at GeneaBloggers by someone purporting to be from Count-Clerks.com advertising the Genealogy Blog Contest. And I’ve received several emails from members of GeneaBloggers asking what the County-Clerks.com site is all about.

So I figure it was time for me to check out County-Clerks.com and see what it was all about and if it could actually be a useful resource for genealogy research.

County-Clerks.com – A Resource Chock Full of Ads!

Well it really was no surprise to me when I first pulled up the site – there were ads. Now I don’t mind ads. I understand the business model and I, in fact, have been known to us them. And there are many genealogy sites out there – all free – that display useful links and info with ads in the header, sidebars, footers etc.

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I went to find information for Cook County, Illinois and each time I progressed to get the information I needed, there were more and more ads. And these are the types of ads that appear based on my previous search activity, purchases etc. (not uncommon these days).

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Is There a Better County Clerk Resource?

I’ll give County-Clerks.com credit: I could not find a national list of county clerks which makes sense – most states have their own list of county clerks. One resource that I find more helpful, that doesn’t have ads, and that is created by genealogist contributions is the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

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Besides getting information on the county clerk and/or courthouse, you also have tons of information about the county itself including advice on research. It is easy to find the county in the FamilySearch Wiki and then get the information I need.

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Genealogy Blog Contest

I’m a big fan of contests and it is a great way to get attention for a new site or endeavor. The contest allows you to vote each day for more than one blog. It also asks that you link to the contest and share the link with others and ask them to vote. The goal, like most sites, is traffic. More traffic means more ads means hopefully more revenue.

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Conclusion

In the genealogy blogging community we’ve seen many awards and contests created by sites that have nothing to do with genealogy. We’ve also seen many “free” resources created that are really fronts for advertising revenues.

I always tell folks to “check your sources” both in genealogy research and when you are approached with any offer be it to place a link on your site or be part of a contest. Do you know the person or company running the website? Are they new to the genealogy community? If so, how have they reached out to the community? Are they vested in being a resource or merely generating traffic and ad revenue?

I wish County-Clerks.com luck with their endeavor. I know I’ll be sticking with FamilySearch Wiki which is a known commodity and have been created ad-free by a group that has been and continues to be very generous and giving to the genealogy community.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Alex Haley – Genealogy Hero or Heel?

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Today is the birth anniversary of Alex Haley, author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of an American Family who was born on 11 August 1921 in Ithaca, New York. Earlier today I posted about Haley at GeneaBloggers and shared the post on social media including Facebook.

Who knew that after almost 40 years since the publication of Roots and even over 20 years since Haley’s death in 1992, the impact of Alex Haley along with his deeds and misdeeds still seem to hit a nerve in the genealogy community.

Your Opinion: Has Haley Helped or Hindered Genealogy?

Up until this morning I didn’t realize that wishing someone – even a dead someone – happy birthday could be controversial. If you’ve been involved in genealogy for the past few decades you should be aware of the impact and presence of Haley through the book Roots and the television miniseries which appeared in the United States in 1977 and took the country by storm.

However, many genealogists may not know that Haley’s work was not without its critics including accusations of plagiarism.

Just from this morning’s comments I can see that there are many opinions which is a good thing. And it means there is still a desire to talk about Haley and his work. Use the comments section below to do so, and let’s keep the focus on facts as much as possible; if you want to share your opinion and view on Haley’s influence, make it clear it is your opinion (but still try to back it up with facts). Comments will be moderated.

Haley Was a Hero To Me

I’ll be honest – when I was 14 years old I was glued to the television in 1977 watching Roots. I watched some of the episodes with my great-grandparents who helped raised me and I started asking questions about our own family. I owe my genealogy journey to Haley and I feel comfortable in thanking him for raising the awareness of genealogy and family history in this country and around the world.

I also feel that Haley deserves credit for making sure that African-American genealogy research was not neglected and he galvanized many African-Americans to go out and search their past.

As for plagiarism – I do believe that Haley plagiarized earlier work and likely padded his research to create a more engaging story. I also know that Haley was a master of the media of that time and some of the criticism is directed towards his methods of “marketing” the Roots phenomenon. Haley’s misdeeds have helped me put his work in perspective especially now as I am directly involved in the genealogy industry. But I hope I never lose that sense of amazement and wonder which Haley inspired in me.

I urge you to read both articles authored by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills which are linked below – they are some of the best analysis of Haley’s work from a genealogy perspective and will help you understand the issues involved in terms of Haley’s research.

Resources

This is only a partial list and a starting point for research and discussion, which I have curated. You are free to add your own resources in the comments section.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Image: Alex Haley Speaks, digital image, The Alex Haley Roots Foundation. Used by permission.

First Look: Who Do You Think You Are? Story

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Recently I received an invite to beta test the new Who Do You Think You Are? storytelling platform at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarestory.com/. The premise of the website is to get visitors to replicate the family tree often shown on the television show using their own family history data and photos.

Storytelling has taken a big leap into the digital world over the past few years. DC Thomson Family History Limited, owners of Find My Past and other genealogy research sites, provide Who Do You Think You Are? Story as one storytelling option.

How WDYTYA Story Works

The Who Do You Think You Are? Story site is easy to use and the premise is similar to that of other family tree-building sites: create a login, verify login, create a profile, add info about yourself and family members, etc.

The process of uploading photos is quick and what I like is this: if you can’t find a photo with just that one ancestor in it, you can upload a group photo and then select the face image for your ancestor – a nice touch! Another nice feature is the ability to email a family member to get additional information for your story.

Once all the data is input, the story has a “play” button which tells your family story via the photos and text. One aspect of the storytelling about which I’m undecided is the addition of “events.” I understand the need to put a family’s history in historical context but this seems to clutter the story in my opinion.

Finally, at the end you can share your story via Facebook and Twitter or even email. What isn’t clear is that your story is hidden until you share and then you can make the story hidden again. As with the birth date privacy issue below, I think Find My Past needs to be more upfront about where my uploaded data will appear and who will have access. I realize there is a Terms and Conditions for the site, but it is always better to call out privacy control mechanisms than to bury them in a governing document.

Some Tweaks Needed to WDYTYA Story

Understanding that the product is still in beta testing mode, I took the opportunity to send the following feedback about my WDYTYA Story experience:

  • Privacy concerns: I had to enter my birth date and I was unable to hide that date (or at least, I couldn’t figure out a way to do so). I noticed that when I added my parents’ birth dates, I could provide a decade range (“the 1940s”) but not for myself. I consider this a “show stopper” which would prevent me from sharing my story publicly via social media (and why I’ve chosen not to do so).
  • Location issues: I was born in Liberty, New York – a very small town in upstate New York – and all I could select from in the drop down list was Liberty, Missouri and Libertyville, Illinois. I had to settle for New York, United States. I recommend that the programmers somehow leverage the Google Maps API for concise location selection. Also, there could be a benefit in the future if I could then pin events to a Google Maps generated map similar to Pinterest’s map function.
  • Generated family tree: I didn’t see any method of taking all the work I had performed – manually entering family tree information – and then joining Find My Past and importing such information into a tree. This seems like a lost marketing opportunity if you ask me.
  • My profile image. I swear I look like the Sun Baby in Teletubbies when I view my story. I’d love it if I could decide on the cropped area of my photo instead of letting WDYTYA Story decide.

Conclusion

The Who Do You Think You Are? Story site is fun and easy to use. Right now it is a bit UK-centric which is understandable given where the WDYTYA originated and where Find My Past is based. It would be nice if given all the effort it takes to add family members and photos that this could then be converted to a Find My Past family tree if a user were not already a member of Find My Past. Also, there need to be some changes in terms of privacy (see above).

Overall, the Who Do You Think You Are? Story platform is a great way to get a friend or family member interested in genealogy and family history.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.