Friday 31 December 2021

SVG Family-Tree Generator (v6.2)


Announcing the release of SVG-FTG V6.2, and its main features. It is true that V6.1 was only released a short while ago, but I need to clear my own wish-list and a list of suggestions from users in order to proceed with other work. It is expected that V6.2 will be last feature release for a much longer period. Details on availability can be found on the summary page: SVG-FTG Summary.

An underlying theme in this version is a better ability to integrate with other products, including better support for automation, support for usage within <iframe> elements, local application registration files (for easy customisation), documentation of the private GEDCOM records specific to SVG-FTG, and a new application to get person or family information from an external source. The value of this lies in the fact that SVG-FTG has created a niche for interactive graphical web-based presentation trees that rely on standard technologies and that do not require a database or paid subscription.

The feature highlights below will mention the relevant sections in the updated documentation.

Private and Living Persons

It is now possible to hide the details of living and/or private persons. The latter feature allows specific persons to be flagged as private, irrespective of whether they are living or not. There are independent text and image substitutions for these two scenarios. There are also guidelines for how to maintain pruned editions of your tree where persons and families may be physically removed for selected readership.

An additional menu option has had to be provided to ensure that all person and family keys are obscured, and no longer relate to names or captions.

See "User Guide : Hiding Selected Persons".

Tabbed Content in Notes

Biographical and historical notes can now utilise tabs to better organise larger amounts of data. For instance, you may want to separate vital events from memories, or from document scans.

The beginning of a new tabbed section can be easily marked (or modified) using a new button on the 'HTML Toolbar' in the Edit-Person or Edit-Family forms. These will be rendered as selectable tabs when viewing the notes in the 'Information Panels' application, e.g.

A similar rendering is provided when they are viewed within the 'Expand Notes' application:

See "User Guide : HTML Editing : Tabbed Content", and "Program Notes : Tabbed Content".

Copy and Paste

The copy-and-paste features in the Tree Designer, and when bringing in elements from an imported GEDCOM file, were quite small-scale (i.e. multiple individuals, or a single family and their children). This has been extended with a 'Copy Descendants' option that copies a spouse-pair, their children, spouses of children, spouses of spouses, and so on down the generations.

See "User Guide : Tree Designer", and "User Guide : GEDCOM Browser".

Resizable Information Panels

The pop-up information panels used for displaying notes may now be resized using "grab handles" in the bottom-right corners. If you click on these then you can drag them up/down and left/right to resize a panel.

See "User Guide : Applications and Services : Information Panels'.

Customising Applications

Additional elements have been added to the application registration XML files, and these allow your custom XML files to more easily modify application configuration or CSS styling.

See "Program Notes : Application Development : Header and Trailer Code".

Local tree-specific registrations files are now supported as a supplement to the system ones (which apply to all trees), and may be specified using the new header setting AppSrvFile, or through the Advanced-Settings form.

See "Program Notes : Application Development : Application Registration".

External-Information Application

A new interactive application has been added to link to information in an external source. This 'External Information' application will follow a hyperlink when clicking on a person box or family circle, and better helps integration with data held in other products.

See "User Guide : Applications and Services : External Information".


There are new command-line options to make automation easier. These include ones for loading and converting GEDCOM files, running minimised, establishing a log file to capture all progress messages, and terminating SVG-FTG when automated tasks are completed.

See "User Guide : Command-line and Shortcuts".

Iframe usage

There are new header settings (Iframe=boolean and ValidOrigins=list, accessible through the Advanced-Settings form) for creating a tree that may be embedded in the <iframe> element of a hosting page. The support includes a simple communication service such that the hosting page can request information from the embedded tree. A common case would be asking for the size of the SVG frame so that the enclosing <iframe> element can be resized appropriately. The ValidOrigins setting a security features that allows the embedded tree to checking that the requests come from an authorised page.

See "Program Notes : Configurations : Iframe Usage".

Image Errors

Image-loading errors are now better handled, and are indicated in both the Tree Designer and the browser by substituting a custom error marker.

See "User Guide : Tree Designer : Person Images".

Alternative Fonts

The standard font used in person-boxes was 13px Times New Roman. The only variation of this occurred when Small=True (which was also implied if Blog=True), in which case the font size was reduced to 10px. There is now explicit control over the choice of font style and size using the new header settings: FontFamily and FontSize. The chosen font can also be styled using new FontBold and FontItalic settings.

See "Program Notes : Configurations : Fonts".

Access to All Settings

A new form provides access to every possible header setting in a tabular form that may be more familiar to developers. This is an additional option and does not displace the original forms that use logical grouping to organise the supported settings.

See "User Guide : Tree Designer : All Settings".

Saturday 18 December 2021

Genealogical Journalism


In these days of massive transcription projects for historical newspapers, genealogists have realised just how much of a goldmine they are for micro-history, in addition to national or global history, but what does the future hold for them?

NB: This article is written from personal knowledge of British and Irish newspapers, and presumes that there are similar issues elsewhere.


I have found the material in old newspapers invaluable for reconstructing ancestral history, and not just for reconstructing families. For instance, articles such as A Sad Career have received very positive feedback from people involved with these projects, and from companies hosting newspaper databases. This style of research is akin to journalism, but is more accurately a form of meta-journalism that puts together an historical account from multiple journalistic articles of the time.

One of the biggest facilitators of this, for me, has been the British Newspaper Archive (BNA), which has transcribed an enormous number of national, regional, and specialist papers. They weren't the first, though, and my earlier research relied on the Gale database of '19th Century British Library Newspapers’, which used to offer free online access (i.e. connectivity from home) through libraries. The Gale database is now almost impossible to find because it has been displaced by the BNA database. Libraries found it cheaper to include BNA access, and yet the agreement was not the same: access requiring you to be physically present in the library.

Another difference is the available search operators. Finding specific material needs search operators that allow you to precisely specify your subject matter, and eliminate stuff you're not interested in. This is crucially important if your subject of interest just happens to contain words that appear in a different but more-prevalent context. To this day, the Gale search operators were better, but the range of newspapers is far better in the BNA. Unfortunately, the more relaxed search criteria of engines such as Google have set a trend that means you are more likely to be deluged with the wrong stuff. In essence, you're invited to enter a bunch of words and some software algorithm then decides which search results would be more appropriate.

But what do we mean when we say micro-history? Well, papers from the 19th century reported much more local news than modern papers do, and regional papers would often cover every little misdemeanour, transgression, accident, celebration, or other event. There was a very high chance of finding references to an ancestor, their family, or even something happening on their street; the events did not have to be of national importance. This provides a very rich substrate in which to find events of their everyday lives, and local events that may have affected their lives. For instance, in Jesson Lesson, a case is made for the movements of a family having been forced by industrial strife and change in the work of framework knitters.

In Where is Nottingham Castle?, an account of riots that destroyed the Castle was wholly constructed from newspaper accounts, leading to a follow-up article revealing the life of one poor sole who demonstrated such bravery on the gallows in the aftermath.

This degree of detail persisted into the early 20th century, but it can be seen to be diminishing after WWII. This is where the future becomes uncertain for newspaper archives because the BNA has only transcribed to about 1950, and I am trying to get a statement about why this is so, or what the future intention is. I am sure I recollect a comment that copyright is an issue, but I have no record of this that I can cite. Assuming that the BNA will transcribe more recent editions, and so document the more-modern events that directly affected our own lives, then the papers will not be the same

Many papers have since been consolidated such that the remaining local papers are usually no more than free papers containing less news than advertising. The real newspapers have become bigger and so much more focused on national and global events. They are not going to send reporters into the inner-city streets, or out into the provinces, unless there is a fairly big or important story to capture.

But the nature of the papers has changed in addition to their ambit. Many national papers now have their own digital archive, which could make the work of non-proprietary archives easier — assuming they want to extend their range, and that some agreement could be reached in sharing the data. A more subtle change has been the shift from objective news to opinion: editorials are bigger and each paper has a significant letters page for public opinion. This is interesting because future researchers will no longer be building opinions of their own solely from newspaper accounts (whether subjective or not), but will have to consider opinions of the time. These will clearly be very subjective, and so requiring a more critical eye, but it can be argued that they will give a multi-dimensional perspective.

So, if our existing newspaper archives later cover years beyond 1950 then we are not going to see the same level of detail since there will be fewer papers, and a gradual loss of micro-history. We can expect to see coverage of the race riots through 1950s Britain, and the social, political, and cultural changes that we now think of as the "sixties", but not the fact that your ancestor was fined 6 shillings for making a noise after leaving the pub in a state of intoxication, or someone on your ancestor's street was in court for not emptying their "night soil" correctly.

If not in the papers then where might future genealogists look for micro-history? A strong candidate would be social media, although far from being objective. Unfortunately, much content of this ilk is considered ephemeral and transient, and may never be preserved. Even comments on special-interest groups are unlikely to get saved (remember Google+?) and so the future looks grim for our inconsequential trivia, but this is likely to be a future blog topic.


[Edit 22 Dec 2021: After three exchanges with BNA, trying to get a statement on the coverage of further dates (beyond 1950), I gave up. They sent me stock replies about covering more titles, and also suggested contacting the British Library for editions they don't yet cover, but seemed to miss the fact that this was for an article actually about newspaper archives.

However, looking at their knowledge base, it seems that copyright is supposedly a problem: "We currently have more newspapers from the 1800s than the 1900s because we need to get permission from the copyright holders to publish more modern content. We are constantly working on this, so over time, you will see more appear." I can understand that each batch of new dates has to be agreed with the copyright holder first, but this does not really explain why there are virtually no editions of any paper after 1950.

On the subject of copyright, there was an interesting knowledge-base article about making transcriptions: "If you plan on creating your own transcripts from the newspapers, then please be advised that unsigned newspaper text goes out of copyright 70 calendar years after the year of publication, and signed newspaper text goes out of copyright 70 calendar years after the death of the author(s)", which would coincidentally be applicable to unsigned text from the early 1950s.]


[Edit 23 Dec 2021: Aha, someone finally understood. Here's their full reply: "I've done some digging and spoken to the team to try and get a bit more information so I hope the below helps: Copyright around newspaper content is complex. There is not just the ownership of the content that the publisher holds to consider, but the nature of the material within the newspaper itself like adverts, photographs, illustrations and other content. When it comes to more modern newspapers, such as those from the 1960s and 70s, we work with current copyright holders and publishers of those newspapers and they are the ones who decide what we can publish on The British Newspaper Archive as they are the ones who will hold copyright on the digitised newspapers that we add to our Archive. When it comes to adding more modern content from newspapers we have already digitised it just comes down to the nature of our agreement to publish the newspapers in our Archive with the current copyright holders AKA the publisher, which can differ from publisher to publisher." This still doesn't explain why it seems to be across the board (i.e. all titles), unless the consolidation I mentioned means there is only a very few copyright holders involved.]