Reunion 2004, Robert Ward, WRG Website
The Future of the WRG Web Site
by Robert L. Ward
27 June 2004
- AEG = Allan Green
- COW = Cap Whitney
- EWW = Gene Whitney
- JMP = Mike Poston
- JP = Jinny Parks
- KLW = Ken Whitney
- MWK = Whitney Keen
- RCW = Robert Croxton Whitney
- RLW = Robert L. Ward
RLW: We have a wonderful web site, and all this wonderful information is on there. How are we going to make this more accessible to someone who finds us somehow, looking for WHITNEY information? What would YOU like? If you went to some other family site, suppose you went to some SMITH family website looking for my ancestor Enoch SMITH, what would you want? I'll tell you what I'd want. I'd want all the guys of the same name, all the Enoch SMITHs, to be arranged in family group records. I'd want to find everything that this person knew about these people, so I can figure out which of them, if any, was my ancestor. Once I had figured that out, I'd would want to have the information about them right there, and I'd want to have the source of that information. That's what I want to do with the WHITNEY family. I'd like that, but I don't know how to get there.
KLW: Isn't that what we have on the web site, pages containing all that information?
RLW: Yes. That's what we've been doing in the Whitney Research Group, is gathering all this information. What I would like to do is have family group pages for every family group of WHITNEYs that we know of, and to have each of them linked to the sources for each piece of information. Now here's an example I ginned up for this talk.
He m. 7 Aug 1744, Harvard, MA, Hannah CHANDLER, daughter of Moses CHANDLER and Anna SANBORN, b. between 3 Apr 1720 and 2 Apr 1721 calculated from age at death); b. 9 Nov 1721, Stratham, NH; d. 2 Apr 1788, Shelburne, MA; aged 67 years. In some references she is called Hannah SANBORN, but it was her mother who was a SANBORN, not she.
Children of Joseph5 WHITNEY and Hannah CHANDLER were as follows:
- i. Moses6; b. 19 Apr 1746, Shutesbury, MA; d. 25 Oct 1756, Shutesbury, MA, at age 10.
- ii. Joseph; b. 28 Feb 1748, Shutesbury, MA; m. Abigail BARNARD.
- iii. David; b. 23 Aug 1751, Shutesbury, MA; d. 27 Sep 1756, Shutesbury, MA, at age 5.
- iv. Elizabeth; b. 30 Sep 1753, Shutesbury, MA; d. 26 Sep 1756, Shutesbury, MA, at age 2.
- v. Molly; b. 7 Apr 1755, Shutesbury, MA; m. Ephraim BARROWS.
- vi. Hannah; b. 1 Jun 1757, Shutesbury, MA; d. 24 Jul 1757, Shutesbury, MA.
- vii. Anna; b. 17 Jun 1759, Shutesbury, MA; m. Moses CHANDLER.
- viii. Lucy; b. 20 Mar 1762, Shutesbury, MA; m. Martin SEVERANCE.
- ix. Hannah; b. 26 Aug 1764, Shutesbury, MA; d. 4 May 1788, Shelburne, MA; aged 24 years.
Here we have Joseph WHITNEY who lived in Shutesbury and Shelburne, MA. I have his name, I have the names of his parents, whom I know, and a link. Where does the link go? It goes to the family group of his father. I have his birth and death information, with links. Where do the links go? Both of these go to the death record, in Shelburne, MA, vital records. That's where we got the death date and place, and the age tells us the approximate birth date.
KLW: What you're doing is, you're using the link to give you the source.
RLW: Yes. There's another way you could do it. Instead of that link right here, you could have a link to a footnote, and the footnote naming the source could be linked to the actual source, Shelburne vital records. I could do that, and maybe that's even better. If there were two or three different sources, they can't share one link, but I could have three different footnotes, and each one linked to an actual source.
This is the wife, marriage data, it gives the marriage date, in Harvard, and a link there to the actual marriage record in Harvard vital records. So if there is any question where this information came from, just click on the link, and then you can see what exactly it is, the actual marriage record with his name. The name of the wife, her parents' names when I know them, her birth information when I know it. Then there's her death information, with a link to the death record. I don't have a link to her birth record, because her birth in New Hampshire would not be in our vital records collection, because her name's not WHITNEY, it's CHANDLER. If I have a secondary source extract of a book or journal that gives this information, I'd link to that. If I have no other source, I would link to information from the LDS website at familysearch.org. It's not a wonderful source, but if that's all I have, I'd link to that.
Then there's the discussion. I put notes there, whatever they are. Any time there's a problem, or a conflict, something requiring comment, something that required me to draw a conclusion, I put it there, and link to the source of the information. If I knew his occupation, I'd put that in here. If had his probate records, I'd put them here. If I had deeds, or if I had census records, I'd put them here. And for every fact like that, I'd put a link. Military records, and so on.
Then I have the list of children. The children are linked to their own family groups. The information about each will be very brief, just birth date and place, and either a death date or names of spouses. Each will have his or her own family group page.
There could also be a lineage back to the immigrant (or to the earliest known) WHITNEY ancestor, with links to each ancestor's family group page. This isn't really necessary, however, because from, say, Joseph's page, you could click on the link to his father Thomas, and on Thomas's page, click on the link to his father in turn, and so on, back to the immigrant or the earliest known.
So that's what I'd like to see for every WHITNEY person that we know about. Now that's A LOT. But wouldn't it be useful to someone coming to our web site?
The size of the task I've described to you is daunting, but we can start with Pierce. I've found a lot of errors in Pierce, but taking them into account, we'd have a pretty good approximation to these family group pages. Chop it up into family group pages.
One of the things that this would do is to merge together all the WHITNEYs from all the different families into one place: all the Johns, all the Henrys, all the unknowns, all the southern guys, everything, in one alphabetical compilation. This would be first draft of one page of that.
How am I going to create one of these family group sheets? I'm going to take all the information that I know about this family, put it on a web page, in a file. I'd convert this web page to HTML, add some features such as superscripts and bold face, and put some standard headers and footers at the beginning and the end. Now I'd have to put in the addresses for all the links. Now on this example page, when I ginned it up, I put links in there, but I didn't have any addresses to use. You can see the links, but they actually don't lead anywhere, so I sort of cheated.
This is just one page, for one family. How many pages do you suppose there would be? Maybe more than 20000. It's hard to say. This is a HUGE project.
What's going to be on the other end of those links? Here's the Shutesbury, MA, vital record page:
Shutesbury, MA, Vital Records
Holbrook, Jay Mack, Massachusetts Vital Records, Shutesbury, Holbrook Research Institute, Oxford, MA, 1987.
- Anes, d. Caleb and Anes, b. 20 June 176[2 or 3].
- Anna, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 17 Jun 1759.
- David, s. Joseph and Hannah, b. 23 Aug 1751.
- Elisabeth, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 30 Sep 1753.
- Elizabeth, d. Joseph, Jr., and Abigail, b. 23 Feb 1774.
- Hannah, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 1 Jun 1757.
- Hannah, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 26 aug 1764.
- Hezekiah, s. Caleb and Anes, b. 16 Aug 1766.
- Jonathan, s. Caleb and Annis, b. 2 Sep 1768.
- Joseph, s. Joseph and Hannah, b. 28 Oct 1748.
- Lucinda, d. Joseph, Jr., and Abigail, b. 18 Jan 1776.
- Lucy, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 20 Mar 1762.
- Lucy, d. Caleb and Annis, b. 20 Apr 1765.
- Mary, d. Joseph and Hannah, b. 7 Apr 1755.
- Moses, s. Joseph and Hannah, b. 19 Apr 1746.
- Moses, s. Joseph, Jr., and Abigail, b. 24 Sep 1772.
- Annas, of Shutesbury, and Seth Hopkins of New Salem, m. -- Dec 1796.
- Mary, and Ebenezer Shaw, b. of Shutesbury, m. 31 [sic] Sep 1797.
- David, s. Joseph and Hannah, d. 27 Sep 1756.
- Elizabeth, d. Joseph and Hannah, d. 26 Sep 1756.
- Hannah, d. Joseph and Hannah, d. 24 Jul 1757.
- Lucy, d. Caleb and Annis, d. 16 May 1765.
- Moses, s. Joseph and Hannah, d. 25 Oct 1756.
Copyright © 2001, the Whitney Research Group
I took the page from our archives and put in these links. Where are these links? You'll see a daughter Anna, daughter of Joseph and Hannah, who appeared on the previous page. This link from the couple "Joseph and Hannah" would be to that page. The link from the child Anna would be to her own page, with her husband Moses CHANDLER. Here's another link, from Anes, daughter of Caleb and Anes. The two links would be to Anes's own page and to her parents' page, Caleb and Annes (CHURCH) WHITNEY of Harvard, MA. They had a different lineage altogether from that of Joseph and Hannah (CHANDLER) WHITNEY.
Here are the marriages of Annas WHITNEY and Seth HOPKINS, which would be linked to that same family group page, and Mary WHITNEY and Ebenezer SHAW. Mary is an unknown, I don't know who she is. I haven't figured out who she is at all. She is called "of Shutesbury", so you know she was living in Shutesbury when they got married. You might think she is the one whose birth record is above, but that Mary was 32 years old at the time of the marriage, which casts some doubt on that identification. That's not impossible, but her page would have just her and the marriage on it, until some resolution of her identity can be made. That's the only thing I can do.
Now, what else am I going to need for this project? I'm going to need some way to get to Joseph's page. I have a couple of ideas about that. One is, to have all the Joseph pages linked together in a chain in chronological order. There could be links forward and backward, to the next youngest and next oldest ones. One problem with this is that, when you get a new Joseph, you have not only to put links to his chronological neighbors, but you have to change links on their pages to point to his, rather than each other's. So there's a maintenance problem. So that seemed like a problem, and furthermore, to find a particular Joseph you might have to go through a large portion of this chain, one page at a time. A better idea is to have a page with all the Joseph WHITNEY individuals listed on it, with links to their family group pages. You'd have to list at least a rough approximate birth date for each, maybe the death date, and maybe the spouse or spouses, for identification. For this fellow, you could put "Joseph WHITNEY (c1715-1796), m. Hannah CHANDLER." Another idea would be to put all the Joseph WHITNEY family groups on one big page. That has the disadvantage that loading this page would be slow, and that goes against the philosophy of the web site design, to make the pages load as quickly as possible. So it seems better to have an index of some kind. Then above this page with all the Josephs listed, there would be another layer of index including all the given names starting with J, and links to the lower level index pages. Then there would be a top layer of index with all the letters of the alphabet (and blank) linking to those middle-level index pages. If you were hunting for a particular Joseph, you'd go to the top level page, click on J, then click on Joseph, peruse the list, and click on a likely candidate for the one you were seeking.
We would also need index pages for everyone who is not named WHITNEY. In this case, we have Hannah CHANDLER, Moses CHANDLER, Anna SANBORN, and Anna (SANBORN) CHANDLER, all with links pointing to the family group page of Joseph WHITNEY above.
Now in addition to just pointing to the page of the source, I want the links to point to the exact line where the fact in question is stated. That means putting an anchor in virtually every line of a vital records page, a census index page, and so on. I need that, so when I make a link to a birth record, it takes you not just to the page, but right to the event. Thus you have to have an anchor to every event. I have to have a way of naming these anchors. Perhaps they could be called Line1, Line2, Line3, and so on, in numerical order. Perhaps they could be called Anna1, Anes1, and so on, or some such system reflecting the event itself. Perhaps some other system of naming those anchors would be even better.
I also need a systematic way of naming all the family group page files. How am I going to distinguish the files of two families headed by Joseph WHITNEY men of the same age? I have to have some way of naming these files, if I keep each family group in a separate file, when I put them in directories, some way that makes sense. That's an issue. I also have to have some systematic way of naming the directories.
This should replace a large part of my six-generation study, although that follows female lines as well as male lines. This would also replace a large part of the on-line databases, but not the parts that follow female lines. Perhaps we cannot afford to keep track of all those female lines, and should leave that to people studying those other surnames. This project would not replace the GEDCOM files. They would remain intact as they are.
Another thing we need is more census data. We have pretty good indexes. We need more data. It is hard to identify someone just from the fact that a head of household lived in this town on this date. The census data would be much better. Clearly we don't have enough of that. I really would like to have more census data. It can all be found on microfilm, at ancestry.com, or in other places. This kind of data would be very valuable. Extracting it would require more time than I have to devote to such a project.
We also need more probate records. Just the index may be enough to identify somebody, but the actual data would be even more helpful.
With this project, people coming to the web site will quickly find out what we know and what we don't know. Futhermore, this could be the beginning draft of a new genealogy of the John WHITNEY family. I wouldn't want to publish a new book like that without a lot more research. I would like to see all the deeds and all the probates pertinent to everyone in the book. This would be a very rough draft of such a book. No new book would be useful for the descendants of Henry, because Phoenix did such a good job, and was so thorough. There are a few errors, which have been documented, but on the whole, his book would be hard to improve upon.
JMP: Is there a page which has all the corrections to Pierce?
RLW: Yes. There is such a page, and it is very large. Go to any page up to page 90, and look for a link in the text. Click on that link, and it will not only take you to the page of corrections, but it will take you to the specific correction for that item in the text. The page of corrections is very large because there are about a dozen corrections on every page of Pierce, so there are nearly a thousand errors.
That leads us to another problem. When we want to make a link, we have to decide which event applies to which person. How do we make those decision. That's something that requires the judgment of a genealogist. It requires decision-making. I've been doing that in compiling my own personal database, from which I created the six-generation study. I've been doing that when I answer queries on the mailing list. "I think I found your ancestor in this town in this census record, and here is a military pension record which mentions him, . . ." Every time we put a link on one of these pages, we have to make a decision. Which couple Joseph and Hannah are the ones whose daughter Anna was born in Shutesbury on that date? There are no less than three Nathan-and-Tabitha couples who were contemporary, and sorting them out requires some detective work. How do you determine which one is meant? Every link you make would involve a decision: this event pertains to this person; or, this person is the child of this couple; and so on.
Now doing this project would be very labor intensive. I can't see any way now to get from where we are to where we want to be. I can't think of anybody I could recruit to do this. I can't see anyone to put the stuff I do now off onto, so that I could spend some time doing this. So I don't know how get from here to there. It would be a wonderful thing to get to, but I don't know how. So what should I do? Is thus just a pipe dream, this system, and we can never get there? As with all things, I suppose I could start gradually, and when I work on a particular family, or when I find someone new, I could make the page for them and insert what links I can. That way there would be a gradual process of building this up, but it would be fragmentary for a long time.
I've been asked how I generated the six-generation study from my own database. I use The Master Genealogist genealogy database program, which is the best one on the market, in my opinion. To generate what I did, I had to decide what the scope would be (how many generations from what person), what report template to use, what fonts, what exactly the dates and places reported would look like ("born" or "b.", "in" or "at" or neither, include county names or not, state abbreviations or not, and so on), what information to include about spouses, whether surnames are to be capitalized, and so on. Then I had to decide whether to include sources in-line, as footnotes, as end-notes, or not at all, and whether or not to have a bibliography. Then I had to make decisions about indexes of names and places. All of this are selections to be made on a report menu. Then all I had to do is click on a button labeled "Generate," and I had it. So this was pretty easy, quick and dirty. One problem with that is that if some fact hasn't yet been entered into my personal database, it didn't show up in the study. I don't regenerate the study every time I add stuff to my database, but only every couple of years, when the changes and additions have accumulated.
We have a lot of good data, a lot of references to secondary sources, and a lot of good transcriptions of things, but it's very disorganized. Right now, the way to find stuff is using the search engine. We shouldn't have to use the search engine. It should be better organized than that.
KLW: It should be. If we try to do this project, and we somehow find the time to do it, it would be nice, but in the end, do we really think it would be worth the work. It's very altruistic. Are we taking the fun out of it? To me, I like to be the detective, finding things. If I discovered the WHITNEY web site which gives me a way to find everything for me, that gives me a sense of accomplishment, rather than having it all done for me. Do we want the WHITNEY web site to be the McDonald's of genealogy: "We do it all for you!"? You come here, we got it, and here it is, immediately. Instant gratification.
RLW: Instead of this, why not take all the data we have, put it all together, and sort it by name?
Carrying your argument to its logical conclusion, no genealogist should ever write a book. Those books take the fun out of genealogical research by doing all the detective work for you!
KLW: No, I don't want to do that. Think about the value of the time it would take compared to the result. It's a great idea, but would it be worth the time it would take? Could that time be better used helping people who are looking for things? It's a wonderful idea, but I'm not sure that it would be worth the time investment.
RLW: All right. I value your opinion. Another thing that this would do, is that it would correct many of the errors that have been spread.
JMP: It would only make it possible for people to get the correct information. Errors that are made and spread are virtually impossible to stamp out.
RLW: At least we could be the authority. If we see something wrong, we could write, "This is wrong. Go to this page for an explanation of why."
KLW: Part of the problem is that people will believe almost anything they find on the Internet. How many times have you seen lineages going back to Adam?
RCW: Or Jesus Christ?
RLW: Sure. But we should still make the attempt to correct what is wrong.
RLW: That's about everything I have to say about the web site. We need more data, and I would like to have it better organized somehow. This may be a pipe dream. Maybe we can't get there from here, and maybe it's a mistake to try.
KLW: It's a wonderful idea, but is it worth the price we'd have to pay to do it?
RLW: If we had a robust family association with perhaps 200 members, and we paid dues, perhaps we could marshall enough resources to really get started, but one guy can't do it.
KLW: If you could be a manager, and manage the project, to make sure it's done right . . . . You could be the editor.
RLW: I would love to be the editor, but I don't have any editees.
Copyright © 2004, 2006, Robert L. Ward and The Whitney Research Group