Data management and moving social history work to the Web

Talk about a data management problem! and trying to make sense of all that data. I have been researching my paternal (English) and maternal (Irish) lines for fourteen years. As of today,§ the Genealogy folder on my computer contains 12.98 GB of data. According to an article posted to the BBC’s web site on December 9, 2004 entitled, Britons growing ‘digitally obese,’ these 12.98 GB are roughly equivalent to thirteen (13) truckloads of paper! Leaving aside arguments about the storage efficiencies of different file formats, the collective magnitude of 12.98 GB of digital data plus eight file drawers and four storage boxes containing hardcopy documents and photographs is, well, nothing short of inconnorbious.*

Sorting through the stacks. Image credit.

My digital genealogical data collection consists of everything from e-mail correspondence and research notes to digital copies and transcripts of public records such as civil registrations, parish registers, and deeds. The data have been acquired, analyzed, developed, and organized into a reasonably good file structure, family trees, and even a few family history reports. The data have been sorted, classified, backed up, grandfathered, and updated with many iterations of operating system, database management, word processing, family tree, graphic design, and other software upgrades. Yet, it continues to grow like topsy.

I had hoped to produce a series of family history books, and may yet do so, if I finish my other hysterical research projects first, and live to ninety-five years compos mentis, and haven’t gotten fed up with family history research long before.

The example of one of my genealogically minded cousins also preys on my mind. This fellow was a longstanding family historian who knew all the ropes about English research. He amassed a considerable repository of data, original records, and photographs, all recorded on or filed in archival quality storage media. A few years ago, he died suddenly, and today, his family history collection lies mouldering in storage. Those stories are at risk of never being told. I feel the same sense of melancholy when I run across mid-19th century pastel portraitures in antique shops—always unlabelled, depicting someone’s ancestors, likely emigrants—that were cleared out of a deceased grandparent’s attic and tossed away with the other junk.

Taking these factors into consideration, I have elected to publish our family history to the web, in increments as time allows, converting the data into stories and biographical sketches whenever possible. After learning how to play in [redacted: proprietary name of software] this weekend, the Arborealis web site now consists of a comprehensive file directory; however, most of it remains to be filled in, which will be the stuff of many months’ work. I have managed to provide an introduction on the home page, a list of the surnames of our direct ancestors with their places of origin, and essential reading under the headings of citing your sources, and giving credit where it is due, caveats and cautionary notes, and, a copyright notice.

and Welsh, as it happens. (2020-11-27)

§ This post was originally published to Arborealis on 30th June 2014 under the title, “Trying to make sense of all the data.”

* Inconnorbious: A word made up by our parents sometime during the 1980s. The meaning of the word is permitted to vary with the circumstances, but synonyms range from incomprehensible or outrageous to astounding or wonderful, and beyond. The possibilities are infinite, and the word is particularly suitable when all other words fail.

Formerly an elegant and highly functional website design package which, for reasons of lack of user support and resulting incompatibility with system upgrades, I have had to eschew. (2020-11-27)


Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “Data management and moving social history to the Web.” [formerly: “Trying to make sense of all the data.”] Blog article published to Arborealis, 30th June 2014, revised 27th November 2020; online at arborealis.ca/2014/06/30/data-management/, accessed [insert date of access].

Image credit: — Documenting the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Digital image governed by Creative Commons Licence CC BY 4.0. Follow the link to find out what you can do with this image, and any restrictions placed upon re-use.