Second Site News #067

20 February 2015

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Using Second Site and Tag Groups to Create an Alternative to Journal and Narrative Reports

by John Lucas

I'm pleased to include the following article by Second Site user John Lucas. At a recent meeting of the Boston Area TMG Users Group, John explained how he uses Tag Groups in Second Site to implement an output format that is similar to the format used by The Great Migration Project. The options provided by Second Site's Person Entry Section, and in particular, Tag Groups, are an under-utilized capability of the program and so I asked John to share his experiences via a Second Site News article. Thanks, John!

Motivation

I published my genealogical research more than 20 years ago, in journal format on the printed page. In the intervening years, the content has changed markedly:

  • There are more people included, not only more distant ancestors and present day additions by marriage and birth, but more information about siblings of ancestors, neighbors and fellow settlers.
  • For many individuals, there is much more detail beyond the vital statistics of their lives. For some, this detail is very extensive.

The journal or narrative report is tried and true. The facts of a person's life are there, more or less like a diary, event by event. But even with paragraph breaks and tailored sentences, the narrative paragraphs tend to become large blocks of text difficult to read and understand by the non-genealogist.

So, I looked around for an alternative way of presenting the same information. Second Sight not only provides a way to change the medium of presentation from the printed page to an internet web site, but it also provides a highly flexible way of changing the organization or sequence of the information as well as its format.

This technique won't be helpful if your goal is to publish in a journal or book. However, side-by-side testing with representatives of my target audience (family and friends who are not genealogists) suggests that alternative formats can be more readable and understandable by breaking up the text into sections of similar tags with headings. In effect, each section becomes a separate chronology of related activities rather than a single merged diary of events. Census records seem to be the most common example I've seen of separating and using a different format. I was looking for a way of doing that for all tags and individuals.

An Alternative Model to Emulate

The Great Migration Project is a research effort and publication program within the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. The project is documenting the first wave of immigrants to New England, 1620 to 1640. The publications use a "sketch" format that is very different from the format and sequence of either TMG journal or narrative reports. See How to read a Great Migration sketch for an explanation and example of the order and content of the sketch headings.

This seemed to be what I was looking for, but would it work for other time periods, from Charlemagne in medieval Europe through the American colonial period to the present day? How much work would it take in Second Site and would it have any effect on the TMG events themselves?

Second Site Tag Groups as the Solution

Second Site's own help files describe tag groups and Terry Reigel's site gives examples of the use of tag groups, including census events. When tag groups are used, they are often used to control placement and style of specific TMG tags. I have used several characteristics of tag groups to produce a very different individual entry. Tag groups

  • Provide the way to produce a paragraph/section heading and
  • Classify or group related tag types into a separate chronology
  • Define the sequence of the sections of the individual's entry
  • Allow alternative formats for the sections when the number of tags in that section exceeds a certain threshold count
  • Only appear (with heading) if there is at least one tag classified in that particular tag group.

This last characteristic is one of the features that enables this design to function for medieval, colonial and contemporary individuals.

Classification

The following table shows how the sections of the Great Migration Project sketch format correspond to the tag groups that I created and the TMG tag types I chose to include in each tag group. Your TMG tag types will differ from mine as a result of importing from other programs, how long you have been using TMG, and any custom tag types you have created.

Great Migration Project Section My Section Example TMG Tags (some custom)
-- Gender, ID, Lifespan Standard Second Site definition
Origin Origin Emigration, Immigration, Psgr List, Ship List
Migration
First Residence
Removes Censuses and Residences Census, Residence
Return Trips -- --
Occupation Occupation Employment, Occupation
Church Membership Religious Activities Communion, Confirmatn, Excommuntn, Ordination, Rebaptism, Religion but not Baptism and Christning
Jewish and LDS tags would go here, too
Freeman Public Office, Civil Service Appointment, Civil, Election, Freeman, Reign
Offices
Education Education Education, Graduation
Estate Estate (Land and Probate) Administ, Cattle-Dis, Codicil, Inventory, Land* (several), Probate, Tax-Assess, Will
-- The Courts Criminal, Legal
-- Military Service Milit* (several)
Birth Birth Baptism, Birth, BirthIlleg, Christning
Death Death Burial, Death
Marriage Marriage Annulment, Divorce*, Engagement, Marr* (several)
Children Parent Section
Family Sections
Standard Second Site definitions
Associations Associations Associatn, DAR, SAR, LineageSoc, Mayflower
This section is used in three ways which usually don't occur in the same individual:
  1. a successful lineage society "target" such as DAR Patriot not the applicant
  2. membership in a society not just lineage societies, for example IEEE or the Masons
  3. partnerships and other connections among individuals

This is an area where TMG respecification of my tags would be an improvement.

-- Other Events All tags EXCEPT Anecdote, Note, Reference (if this section appears, it is usually an indication of more classification to be done, as all previous sections exclude from later sections any tags in that group)
Comments Comments and Notes Anecdote, Note, Reference
Bibliographic Notes Citation List Standard Second Site Definition

Alternative Formats Based on the Number of Tags Per Section

The second part of my customization came as a result of a suggestion by John Cardinal in a Boston TMG Users' Group meeting. When there are a lot of tags for a section, you still get long paragraphs. One way to improve readability is to switch from paragraph style to tabular style if the tag count exceeds a chosen threshold. This requires each tag group to be two definitions within the Person Entry definitions. Thus, in my Second Site configuration, there are two Occupation tag groups, two for The Courts, two for Military Service, and so on. The Title and selected tag types for each definition in a pair are identical. They differ in the other attributes of Tag Groups and those differences are presented in the following table.

Note: A List Panel should work equally well as the Table Panel though I haven't tried doing so.

Number of Tags
in Section
Second Site Parameters
1 - 4 Group Type: Body
Sort: By Date
Tag Filter: Selected (see previous table for selections)
Primary Tags: Both
Witnessed Tags: Both
Virtual Witnesses: Both
Min Tags: 1
Max Tags: 4
Exclude from Subsequent Body Groups: CHECKED
5 - 99999 Group Type: Table Panel
Sort: By Date
Tag Filter: Selected (see previous table for selections)
Primary Tags: Both
Witnessed Tags: Both
Virtual Witnesses: Both
Min Tags: 5
Max Tags: 99999
Exclude from Body Groups: CHECKED
Exclude from Subsequent Panel Groups: CHECKED
Table Panel Columns: Date, Use sentence
Panel Options: Inline, Clear Both, Width 0, Height 0, Full Place

Final Comments and Conclusions

All of this is, of course, highly subjective. I have not discussed and do not yet use any customized Layout or Stylesheet options, so my website may well be considered bland or unexciting. It is the content presentation that I care about. If this isn't to your taste, well, one of the great things about Second Site is ease of making changes. If you prefer a different order, say moving the Parent and Family Sections before all of the rest of the text, that is easily done. So too is using an entirely different set of classifications. My initial definitions of the Person Pages was done in a day, though I have been tweaking and extending the definitions ever since.

Another great advantage of Second Site is that this transformation has not required any changes in TMG. I will admit that it has caused reconsideration of which tag types are needed, how they are classified and used, and what their sentence templates should be to reflect those changes. If I were starting out afresh in TMG, I would have done things differently -- so would we all, I guess.

Does this successfully handle medieval, colonial, and modern-day individuals? I think so but I give you the chance to judge for yourself. The following four individuals represent these three time periods. Remember that the Great Migration scheme was designed for the colonial period so comparing that William Spencer with his corresponding entry in the published books of the Great Migration Project shows how close I approach their scheme and the changes that I elected to make in the definitions.


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