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The Good and Bad of Historic Monuments

Yesterday I remarked on/in the community discussion of whether to rename Faneuil Hall by saying there was wisdom to be found in Mayor Marty Walsh’s statement that “If we were to change the name of Faneuil Hall today, 30 years from now, no one would know why we did it.”

Walsh went on to tell the New York Times (in June 2018, showing how this isn’t a new proposal), “What we should do instead is figure out a way to acknowledge the history so people understand it. We can’t erase history, but we can learn from it.”

Acknowledging and learning from history is, I hope we all agree, a Good Thing. So what’s the best way to accomplish that?

Having a large public building named after certain people, or prominent statues or monuments honoring them, strikes me as communicating one of two messages. The simplistic takeaway is “These people were important and admirable in every significant way.” Historians and most laypeople agree that no one’s perfect. Conveying that would be a Bad Thing.

The more nuanced message that most adults understand is, “What these people did was important and beneficial enough to outweigh their flaws and mistakes.” But of course, that’s a value judgment reflecting the social power structure of the society that confers those honors. It reflects who benefited from those people’s actions and whose suffering the society deemed to be of less weight.

Retaining such honors for particular people after a public discussion about their place in history suggests that the present society has reached the same conclusion about the balance of their activities as the society that conferred those honors in the first place. Perhaps we’ve come to recognize more of the honorees’ flaws or how their activity didn’t benefit everyone equally. But the final judgment is the same.

It can therefore be hard to see a difference between those assessments. A statue of Columbus that says, “We honor this man because of how he helped Europeans take over the Americas,” can look a lot like a statue of Columbus that says, “We honor this man despite how he helped Europeans take over the Americas.” Declaring that it’s a shame historical figures kept hundreds of people enslaved, but not enough to outweigh the benefits they delivered to other wealthy white men, can’t help but carry the message that some people still don’t matter as much. And that’s the Bad Thing these reconsiderations are supposed to halt.

Then comes the possibility of renaming landmarks, removing statues, or otherwise changing monuments. That certainly avoids lionizing those historical figures, the first Bad Thing above. It also leaves no doubt about the change in society’s values, recognizing people who were once dehumanized, demeaned, or overlooked. Generally that’s a Good Thing.

But simply removing a problematic honor by renaming places or removing monuments has some drawbacks as well. It can suggest that the problem reflected in the choice to honor those people has been eliminated—but if the problem or its legacies remain, ignoring those would be a Bad Thing.

This is why I think Mayor Walsh was onto something when he spoke of the importance of retaining a public memory of when and why society changed how it honored certain people. I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion about not renaming Faneuil Hall, but I do think the community would have to find a way to visibly preserve how the building was once named Faneuil Hall. That would have three benefits:

  • A new name would demonstrate that our society no longer overlooks the enslaved people who suffered for Peter Faneuil’s wealth and Boston’s good fortune.
  • Maintaining the memory of the old name would make it impossible to miss how our society once ignored that wrong but has since tried to recognize and correct it.
  • Juxtaposing old and new names would demonstrate historical change and the possibility of change in the future.

All of those would be Good Things, acknowledging and learning from history.

So what’s the right approach? I’ve written about it before.

TOMORROW: Planned iconoclasm.

A Dad and Scientist’s View on Genomic Health

By Barry Starr, PhD, Director, Scientific Communications, Ancestry As we approach Father’s Day, I was excited to see results from a recent survey from Ancestry® that showed that dads, like me, know that understanding their genes can be foundational to how they care for their own health, and understand their family’s health. For example, the Read More

The post A Dad and Scientist’s View on Genomic Health appeared first on Ancestry Blog.

Monday Mailbox: Find A Grave

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Readers,

Many of you had strong feelings about Ancestry’s new design of Find A Grave. You can see it at www.gravestage.com.

Here are some representative samples:

This new format sucks!!! … So disappointed! … I absolutely HATE IT. … Another website ruined by people who don’t use it. … Do.. Not.. Like.. It … New and improved??? It’s absolutely horrible, isn’t it??? …

From Irene Sheridan:

The new site would not take my email and password. Is it a separate registration to try the test site? I don’t want to mess with my “real” login info. 🙂

Dear Irene,

If I understand correctly, the account systems are currently separate. Your email address and real password won’t work on the staging site and vice versa. You have to register again to try some of the functionality of the staging site.

Angela and others found that the information is messed up:

I just looked at my great grandfather’s memorial on the new site. It doesn’t have his wife, children and parents attached to him like it does on the old site. It says there are no family members currently associated with this memorial. So that is not right and did not flow over to the new site like it should have. I also now manage his memorial as the lady who originally made his memorial transferred him over to me. It does not list me as being the person managing his memorial. The new site also says that there is no bio information on him but I added his obituary to the old site so it is not on the new site. I also left a flower on his memorial for the old site but he does not have any flowers on the new site. I don’t like the new site at all.

I forgot to warn you that the data isn’t always real. Don’t worry about that. It is just test data. A corollary is that any changes you make on this staging site is thrown away! Don’t do any real work on it.

Diane Gould Hall commented that the layout is a step backward:

Everything should still be nicely located on one page, as it is now. Now made so you have to click, click, click to find things. The photos are put into that little box, just like on the new and horrible Ancestry site. I understand updating code. I don’t understand a complete new format that makes this beloved website more difficult to navigate and ugly to look at.

Toot echoed that theme:

Just from what I see here, the grey with white text is difficult to read, hard on the eyes. The pleasant colors on the “old” site with black text was very easy on the eyes, and pleasant to look at (why the ugly colors of death needed?). Understand the need for new code, but don’t understand the need to change to ugly colors, hard to read text, and reformat of the page. Hopefully, the attached spouse, children, Bio, etc., will flow over in the “new.” And hopefully, the name and date will continue to be on the photo’s contributed, as well as Flowers contributed. Photo size needs to be large enough to see the text on the Headstones (as it is now,) not some little Thumbnail you can barely see. Name of person (with link) who manages the Memorial is important, unless FaG is going to “manage” all Memorials, which I don’t forsee. The current page format is easy to use, easy on the eyes, and does NOT need to be changed. As someone else stated in their comment, it is obvious that the persons coding, and changing the platform/format, are NOT users of FaG!

As did Anna:

The new site is not a pleasant one to use, at least in this beta version. Too much wasted space, too much scrolling, the photos look funny, and too much clicking around to see what used to be one tidy page with everything instantly visible.

It has caused me great wonder that design experts mess up websites when they get involved. Designers think that poorly utilizing screen space and decreasing contract is somehow a good thing. (Do a Google search for [graphic design white space] and [design “never use black”] . After the designers have been paid and move on, websites FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com relent to user demand and switch back to black text on white. Unfortunately, they never seem to fix the “whitespace is good” problem that results in so many extra clicks scrolling or switching tabs.

Michael Dorsey Iams stole my thunder and preached my usual sermon:

I work in the software industry although not for any of the genealogy companies. I thought it would be useful to talk about how users can most effectively provide actionable feedback to software developers.

First of all, I applaud the Find A Grave team for publishing a public beta site. Developers are reluctant to show work they know is not complete, but it is in everyone’s best interest to get direct user feedback early and often during the development process. Second, we all need to acknowledge that user interfaces need to change over time although the benefits of those changes are not often immediately apparent. And finally, recognize their job is to make money. On a free site, that means they need to increase traffic. Concepts such as internationalization and mobile support are significant to them.

1) Generally, don’t focus on colors and fonts. Everyone has difficulty accepting the unfamiliar, and everyone adjusts with time. Although Google is an extreme example (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/05/why-google-engineers-designers), major companies employ experts and detailed processes for deciding these things.

2) One exception to this I believe is handicapped people. Although there are tools and guidelines for accessibility, real-world feedback is still encouraged in this area.

3) Mobile support is about providing a good user experience a variety of resolutions. Try this experiment. Pick up a corner of your browser displaying the Gravestage site. Adjust it bigger and smaller. The elements change to accommodate. A good design finds ways to continue to show the most important information as the screen size drops. This is called responsive design and it takes a lot of effort to do it well. Pick a resolution that matches your mobile screen resolution and provide feedback in this context.

4) Developers aren’t genealogists so it is all too easy for them to make false assumptions. Help them understand with specific, actionable insights into what you want to accomplish and how you go about it. If there are enough people like you, they will surely try to accommodate.

5) It is generally accepted that reducing number of clicks is important, and I think this is a very fair criticism.

6) Provide your feedback with context describing what type of user you are and how you use the site. Even a specialized site such as Find A Grave has dozens of different types of users that use the site in different ways. They need to be able to all these constituencies.

7) It is safe to assume they are familiar with similar sites in the industry, but the internet is a very big place and I find it helpful when someone says “I like to do X with the site, and I find that Y site does this particular function very well”.

As they finish the site, they will fix all the bugs like photo cropping and stuff. But, they need help with understanding the many diverse use cases that ultimately affect the broad structure and design of the site.

Mander asked:

Is there a link we can use to send our feedback and suggestions to Find a Grave?

Lisa replied:

Yes, when you are on the page, there is a feedback link in the bottom right corner of the page.

So, good readers, go use it!

Ancestry® Invites Its Members to Help Advance Research to Fight COVID-19

In this time of crisis, scientists and healthcare professionals worldwide are working around the clock to understand and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Ancestry we are doing our part to support the global research community in the quest to defeat COVID-19 by launching a research project to explore potential genetic cues in our response Read More

The post Ancestry® Invites Its Members to Help Advance Research to Fight COVID-19 appeared first on Ancestry Blog.

Anti-Semitic Incidents, Coronavirus Information, Avast, More: Monday Afternoon ResearchBuzz, February 3, 2020

NEW RESOURCES

Cleveland Jewish News: ADL launches new online database to track anti-Semitic incidents in America. “The Anti-Defamation League just launched an online searchable database that helps track anti-Semitic incidents against Jews that have taken place throughout the United States. The ‘ADL Tracker’ will be regularly updated to provide the most recent information available on cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, harassment and assaults reported to or detected by the ADL.”

TWEAKS AND UPDATES

PLOS Blogs: Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. “The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak is both saddening and concerning. The scientific community has come together rapidly to address this outbreak in an open and collaborative manner. As a publisher, we look to support the global response to this outbreak by sharing and amplifying research data and findings relevant to the outbreak…. Here is what we are doing…”

BetaNews: Avast apologizes for selling user data and shuts down its marketing analytics subsidiary Jumpshot with immediate effect. “Avast has been facing growing criticism following an investigation by Motherboard and PCMag that revealed the company’s free antivirus software was harvesting user data and selling it onto marketers.”

USEFUL STUFF

MakeUseOf: 5 Free Guides to Understand Digital Security and Protect Your Privacy . “With the number of data breaches, phishing attacks, and other digital threats facing us today, you need to know how to stay secure when using technology. Check these free online guides to understand digital security and protect your privacy.”

AROUND THE SEARCH AND SOCIAL MEDIA WORLD

Washington Post: It wasn’t just the National Archives. The Library of Congress also balked at a Women’s March photo.. “The Library of Congress abandoned plans last year to showcase a mural-size photograph of demonstrators at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington because of concerns it would be perceived as critical of President Trump, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.”

New York Times: Why Random Government Accounts Are All Over Your Timeline. “Earlier this month… the San Antonio Water System, which regulates the water utilities for the Texas city, tweeted a joke about Baby Yoda reaching to flush the toilet. In October, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer fired off a tweet about clogging a friend’s toilet using an image of the widely memed Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Department of Transportation in Northern Virginia used a GIF of a confused German shepherd to ask drivers to refrain from speeding.”

Tubefilter: China’s New Digital Stars Are Construction Vehicles–And They Have 40 Million Viewers. “The respiratory illness has sickened nearly 10,000 and killed 213, and with cases presenting in all areas of China, transportation across the country has been suspended, and people have been urged to isolate themselves in their homes to prevent further spread. Stuck there, they’ve been keeping themselves busy by tuning in to digital livestreams–which, obviously, isn’t so unusual. What is unusual is the subjects of these livestreams: two currently-under-construction hospitals, and the people and vehicles building them.”

SECURITY & LEGAL

TechCrunch: Ring’s new security ‘control center’ isn’t nearly enough. “On the same day that a Mississippi family is suing Amazon -owned smart camera maker Ring for not doing enough to prevent hackers from spying on their kids, the company has rolled out its previously announced ‘control center,’ which it hopes will make you forget about its verifiably ‘awful’ security practices.”

RESEARCH & OPINION

University of California Riverside: AAPI Data releases mapping tool for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “[Karthick] Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside, directs the research initiative AAPI Data, a nationally recognized publisher of demographic data and policy research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs. AAPI Data recently partnered with the the national membership organization Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, or AAPIP, to create and release a simple yet powerful mapping tool…. this digital tool is intended to help journalists, decision-makers, and community organizations better understand the diversity and geographic settlement patterns of AAPIs across the country.”

Gizmodo UK: Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ Tool Doesn’t Clear Shit. “By using this tool, you’re just telling Facebook to put the data it has on you into two separate buckets that are otherwise mixed together. Put another way, Facebook is offering a one-stop-shop to opt-out of any ties between the sites and services you peruse daily that have some sort of Facebook software installed and your own-platform activity on Facebook or Instagram. The only thing you’re clearing is a connection Facebook made between its data and the data it gets from third parties, not the data itself.” If you don’t like swearing, avoid this article — it’s saltier than condensed soup. Good afternoon, Internet…

Do you like ResearchBuzz? Does it help you out? Please consider supporting it on Patreon. Not interested in commitment? Perhaps you’d buy me an iced tea. I love your comments, I love your site suggestions, and I love you. Feel free to comment on the blog, or @ResearchBuzz on Twitter. Thanks!

Simple Steps To Get Started on Your Ancestry® Family History Journey

October is Family History Month so there’s no better time to discover your own unique family story. Learning about your family history helps you better understand your past, including the triumphs and struggles your ancestors went through, and provides crucial context about who you are and where you came from. Plus, this is information you Read More

The post Simple Steps To Get Started on Your Ancestry® Family History Journey appeared first on Ancestry Blog.

“He wanted a free conversation with us”

After his fight with James Otis, Jr., became a big deal, Customs Commissioner John Robinson published his version of what had led up to it. That account was dated 7 Sept 1769 and appeared in Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy four days later.

According to Robinson, on Friday, 1 September, he arrived at the Board of Customs’s meeting room in Concert Hall about 10:30 A.M. and was told that Otis had come by that morning and asked to speak to him and a fellow Customs Commissioner, Henry Hulton. After Hulton came in, the two men sent “Green the Messenger”—probably Bartholomew Green—to find Otis.

About 11:00, Otis arrived at the door with Samuel Adams. The board’s secretary invited him in, but he declined. The two Commissioners went to the door, and Robinson said:

Your servant, Gentlemen; pray what is your business with us?—-

Mr. Otis answered, that he wanted a free conversation with us:

I replied, It is necessary that we should first know upon what business, Will you not walk into a room Gentlemen?

He answered, that his business was of such a nature, that it could not be transacted in our own houses, and he could not mention it until he met us: and he proposed, that each of us should bring with him a friend, and he would bring a friend with him.

I then asked him, whether his business was official?

He answered, he did not understand what I meant by official:

I replied, does it relate to us as Commissioners?

He said, it is related to his character, he wanted a free conversation with us on that subject, and that he was to meet Mr. [William] Burch [another Customs Commissioner] at the coffee-house the next morning at seven o’clock.

I answered, that as I lived in the country, I did not know whether I could attend at that time, and Mr. Hulton [who lived in Brookline] said the same in respect to himself.

Mr. Otis then said any other time will do.

We answered, we would see him at a convenient opportunity, and then parted.

I share that all to show the genteel, even arch, tone of the interaction, and to suggest how frustrating it must have been to figure out what Otis was on about. It’s notable that he didn’t have a particular beef with Robinson—he was making the same approach to three of the five Commissioners. (Of the remaining two, John Temple was a political ally of the Whigs and Charles Paxton a longtime foe, so Otis probably didn’t see approaching them as worthwhile.)

The next morning, Robinson decided he’d go to the coffee house at the same time as Burch, but he arrived late, closer to 7:30, and found Burch coming out. He and Otis ended up alone in a back room sharing a “dish of coffee.” [Because you need some kind of caffeine for a breakfast meeting.]

Finally Otis got to his grievance. In Robinson’s recollection he said:

I am informed that I have been represented to government by your Board, as a rebel and a traitor, and I have two or three questions to put to you, that I think, as a gentleman, I have a right to an answer, or at least to ask. The first is, whether your Board as Commissioners, Gentlemen, or in any other manner, ever represented me in that light, in any of their memorials or letters to the Treasury.

There had been another leak from London, and Otis was taking things personally.

TOMORROW: The Customs Commissioners’ reports.

Online genealogy research to understand family history and ancestry

Life is lived onwards but understood backwards. Indeed, there are lot of things to learn in history, more so, with the people for whom you own your heritage. Those people whom youve never ever heard of, the forgotten souls of your great, great, great, great grandparents were the reason why you are on earth right now. Because of this, many peoples interests were captured on studying their own roots, their genealogy.

Over the years, the supreme records that serve as the best research tools on the study of genealogy are held in microfilm reels. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were the major collectors of family trees as part of their religion and belief. Because of this, most family researchers seek for their help in tracing their line of ancestors.

Aside from the records of the Mormons, there also other excellent sources to find names of the people. One of which is the newspaper. Newspapers can contain articles about or obituaries of your relatives who lived decades ago. Funeral cards are also powerful tools for researchers. These could be found from the closets of your parents or libraries. Also, you can interview your living relatives about the names of your ancestors, their stories, and their way of living during the time. Nevertheless, all these sum up to the laborious chore of studying your genealogy. And to add to the difficulty is the financial concern. The old methods of tracing the family genealogy are undoubtedly expensive. Tracing the genealogy requires an investment. The introduction of internet to the world of genealogy is a great technological spec.

Because of the online genealogy system, all the records and files from the primary documents, to newspaper articles and obituaries down to the funeral cards were all embedded to the vast sea of knowledge. This online system allows the researchers to an easy access to the resources. All the capabilities and authentications of the recorded documents are posted at the internet. And everyday, more sets of information are entered to the web to keep its record updated and reliable.

There are free genealogy search engines that require only certain information such as surname, name, and/or location of your ancestry. In an instant, you can readily find your line of ancestry. However, if you are not satisfied with the results reported by search engines, you can conduct further study of your genealogy. To help you in this quest, you can post at the online message board the specific surname that you are tracing. In this manner, you will be able to meet fellow genealogists who are working on the same surname.

For genealogists, the online research for resources is beneficial. It helps cut the cost of expenses and the time allotted for genealogy research. Aside from this, they can share their documents with other researchers online. The exchange of information speeds up the tracking of heritage.

While you seek to learn more about many things, dont you think it is also fulfilling to know your roots?