Carmen J. Finley, Ph.D., C.G.
[Published in The Computer Genealogist, vol. VII, No. 2, March/April, 1998]
In the fall of 1994, just as the World Wide Web was picking up momentum, this author chose to
team up with the Ruben Salazar Library at Sonoma State University in California to preserve her
collection of documents.
The development of this system whereby citations to individual family research documents could
be entered into the library's database catalog and be made available throughout the library system
was described in the NGS/CIG DIGEST two years later.(1) At that point in time approximately
500 citations had been entered into a library MARC format database enabling the user to search
on author, subject and title just as could be done for any item in the library's catalog. In the
intervening year and a half the technology has been developed to allow most of these citations to
be accompanied by a full text transcription and, in some cases, by digitized images of the actual
documents themselves. Maps have been included. Photo albums have been developed for some
family constellations and reprints of previously published manuscripts have been added to the
collection. The collection itself has grown to about 725 items. The purpose of this report is to
expand on the methods used and to explore the feasibility/desirability of this model for preserving
documents of value to the family historian.
Adding Full Text Transcriptions
By the time the system was developed to the point where data entry began, the vast majority of
documents had already been transcribed. This was an ongoing part of the research that had been
taking place since 1979. It was just a matter of developing the technique to attach them to the
citations that were being entered. From this author's point of view, it was as simple as expressing
an interest to the librarian with whom I had been working, Mary Dolan, and saying, "How do we
do this?" Fortunately, about this time, the library's automation software was upgraded. The
upgrade included a web-based catalog, searchable by anyone with access to the WWW. In
addition, this upgrade meant that the records (citations) in the library database could now include
active links to other computer files, whether those files were images or text.
Getting the transcriptions online involved a four-step process. First, because the transcriptions
had been prepared over a long period of time using different word processing programs and
versions, a fair amount of time was spent simply collecting them all into some organized grouping
in a common format, which at that time was WordPerfect 5.1. The transition to WordPerfect 7
took place in 1996 with other system upgrades . Second, each document had to be formatted in
hypertext markup language (HTML). Fortunately, WordPerfect 7 had the ability to reformat a
basic document to HTML with a few fairly simple clicks. This worked most of the time, but some
formatting problems were encountered with tabular material. In general, the easiest way to solve
these problems was simply to put tabular material into table format in WP7. Occasionally,
formatting was also improved by overriding some of the automatic HTML program conventions
used by WP7 and doing editing in HTML using Word Pad. Third, after the full text version was
prepared, an additional line of code had to be written into the original document citation. And
finally, the full text version was uploaded to the SSU account that held the rest of the database.
Adding Previously Published Manuscripts
Basically, the techniques for adding the full text of previously published manuscripts was the same
as that described above except for one very important addition. Permission to do so had to be
obtained from the publisher. Initially, this included four periodicals--NGS Quarterly, The
Virginia Genealogist, The American Genealogist, and Tennessee Ancestors. All editors readily
gave their permission. The value of having these included as a part of this database cannot be
overestimated. The entire history of computers in genealogy reinforces the efficiency of having
material organized in a manner that allows for faster interchange with others. It is now possible
to point persons who inquire into relationships in families to a specific spot on the Internet where
they can read and download the article for themselves. The same is true, of course, with the
individual documents in the database. All this can be done in a fraction of the time it would have
taken to write a letter, print out or photocopy enclosures and mail them. Not only that, people
tend to find me and/or my database without my having to search for potential contacts when
doing my own family research. This makes for greater productivity in a shorter period of time.
Adding Photo Albums
The next development was to add a few photo albums to see how this might work. It worked
very well. As of this writing, five such albums have been developed and more are planned.
Again, for best viewing, it was found that the use of table format was preferred and the total
number of photos in a given "album" should be restricted to a few that would allow most systems
to load in a reasonable amount of time. To get an idea of how this works, the viewer can look at:
Charles Bartley and Alice Victoria (Hackney) McFarling Family Photo Album
John and Susan (Rogers) McFarling Family Photo Album
Jane Ann (Finley) Smith (1785-1871) and Family
[Note: the printed article carried extracts of Jane Ann's photo album which can be found in this
database at the address given here.]
The citations of all photo albums contain the word "photo" as a subject category, so it is possible
to simply search on the subject "photo" and locate all such items currently in the system.
Adding Other Digitized Images
The idea of adding other digitized images to the database was first explored when a couple of
"prize" documents had been requested by an online contact. Instead of the usual trek to the
photocopier and the use of the U.S. Postal service, why not just add them to the database where
people could copy them to their heart's content?
One of the prized documents was a family history of Newton Gleaves Finley (1841-1933) written
in his own hand in 1870. Son of James Washington and Margaret Jane (Campbell), Newton
Finley was but eleven years old when his family made the five-month trek by wagon train from
Saline County, Missouri, to San Jose, California, in 1852. This brief history of his family was
taken from a letter written by his Uncle John Pettus Finley, who had been born about 1780 to
1785 in Montgomery County, Virginia. Newton includes a family tree which starts with the
immigration of this branch of the Finley family from Ireland to America about 1700.
Unfortunately, the name of the progenitor in America is not given, but the second and succeeding
generations, without doubt, confirm much of what had been laboriously pieced together from
documents found in Augusta County, Virginia, from the late 1730s to 1765. This document can
be viewed at:
Newton wrote his own autobiography, in his own hand, when he was 74 years old in 1917. This
can be viewed at:
[Note: the original article carried an extract of this material, which can be found in this database at
the address given here.]
In a companion piece, Newton had written the story of this trip across the plains, which began
from Missouri in April 1852 and ended five months later in San Jose, California. His Memoirs of
Travel, written in December 1922 at the age of 81, is amazingly detailed. While this is a
transcription, it adds appreciably to the story of his family and supplements the digitized images.
This can be viewed at:
Adding Maps to The System
It was a simple step to add a few maps. John Finley (1823-1910), who was the progenitor of the
Finley clan in Sonoma County, left an estate of approximately 1,000 acres when he died. This
property was divided into eight parcels by survey in October 1911. While the online quality of
this map is not really very good, it does serve to document there was such a map and does give
the source. It can be viewed at:
Of better quality is the map of the division of the Henry M. Stemple estate in Tomales, Marin
County, California, 1873, showing the division of property among his heirs. This is oversized and
does not fit the average screen, but is more readable. It can be viewed at:
There are undoubtedly other ways to work out the best way to display oversized maps. One
option might be to divide the map in sections that would fit the average screen. However, the
first step has now been taken and refinements can proceed at a later date.
Advantages of This System
In the last four years since this project began, there has been phenomenal growth of genealogical
resources on the Internet. Cyndi Howells currently lists over 26,000 sites of potential interest to
family historians. Knowing what I know now, would I have done things differently? No! If
anything, my experience watching the growth of this tremendous resource has only reinforced my
conviction that teaming up with Sonoma State University Library was the soundest way to
preserve my historical documents. Web sites come and go. URLs change. Some ISPs simply
disappear from the face of the earth. At some time in the future there may be more stability than
there is currently, but for now an alliance with an established institution offers the most stability
over time. There have been changes in the SSU information system as well. But having the
institutional support minimizes the problem of coping with change and of updating the system.
Plans for the Future
There is always more to do to improve this database than there is time in which to do it. The
developments of the last year and a half have only skimmed the surface. More documents await
transcribing; more photo albums need to be developed. More digitized images need to be added.
One of the unanticipated outcomes of this database, originally planned as a way to preserve documents, is that it is also proving to be a valuable research tool for the author as well as others. Sometimes it is easier to find a given document in the database than to try to find it in my own paper files. It has attracted persons whom I probably would not have found otherwise. I think I am really building a better mousetrap!!!
1. Carmen J. Finley, "Creating an Internet Database for Your Research Documents," NGS/CIG
DIGEST, vol. 15, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1996), p. 4. See
Carmen J. Finley, Ph.D., C.G. has published articles in the NGS Quarterly, The Virginia
Genealogist, The American Genealogist and Tennessee Ancestors. She has received the NGS
Distinguished Service Award for chairing the NGS Family History Contest. She may be
contacted at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
See companion piece by Mary Dolan at aaa-0729.html.