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Databases

Having started collecting information about earlier generations in the 1990s the differences in the technology used for storing and sharing data are now great.

This has come about through changes in equipment [hardware] - faster processors, larger storage devices, faster telecoms links, etc - and improvements in the programs [software] available to both manage the hardware and to provide useful applications [apps] for business use and personal entertainment.

Despite twenty years of progress however the apps for handling family history databases have only improved slowly. In fact the number of reliable genealogy apps seems to have declined. Take the Family Tree Maker app. It was the first family history database I used back in the late 1990s. Over the decades it has been changed and tweaked by various owners but with limited effect. Today we use the reliable 2005 edition after having some poor results and outright failures with various newer versions.

With the growth of the Internet and making vast quantities of printed and handwritten records available online a new type of app emerged. One with access via a web browser to database hosted on a web server. In theory this provides some major advantages over the PC-based local database in that multiple users can not just view but also update family records. And the open source nature of the database [SQL] and programming language [PHP] removed the dependence on commercially restricted database formats.

However it is very easy to keep expanding the scope of the family history app and in the process create a very complex piece of software. This is in itself not reason to avoid this approach. But it does require a lot of detailed programming and huge amounts of testing.

For the past few years we have been spending time putting family history information online using the Webtrees app. And in general this has been a success - even though we have never opted to move the master copies of the data online for security reasons. However it does have a complexity issue that needs to be addressed.

The records used to create the Strangways-Towneley online database is a GEDCOM file of 63Mb but the resulting Webtrees database was some 745Mb - due to the number of tables created for functions such as suggesting a place of birth. And when combined with the fact that the next update from a new GEDCOM did not start from empty tables resulted in the ISP’s database size limit being exceeded. Not wishing to swirch to another ISP and not being able to reduce the GEDCOM any further it seems that we have come to the end of the road for using Webtrees for the Strangways-Towneley records. There is the possibility that future editions of Webtrees do get around this issue of expanding table sizes - and as an ex-progammer there are techniques that could avoid the problem*. But in the short term Webtrees will be restricted to use with the smaller Townsley Extended database.

 

* Thoughts on database management

When Webtrees receives a new GEDCOM file to replace the existing data it needs to delete all the existing table entries and then add all the required new ones.

As an outside observer the time delay before additions start indicates that existing table entries are being deleted one at a time. The increase in server space required indicates that the deleted table entries are not being physically removed or even reused.

If the strategy was changed to one of deletion at the table level and then creating a new blank table then this issue could be avoided - since the total database size would stay around the same as at initial creation. Creating new blank tables is already in place and used at first installation.

But until either our ISP permits larger databases or Webtrees changes its deletion method our 63Mb GEDCOM file will remain too large to put online using Webtrees.

 

As with all these family trees there are likely to be errors and gaps - since few (no?) family trees are ever complete or provide the fully detailed story of something as complex as a family’s history . And it is impossible to wait until all the details are confirmed before publishing what fragments are known about a family tree - since family trees will always have gaps. All the information listed here has been obtained from publicly available sources. Sources put online by both official outlets and through the efforts of amateur researchers. Also note that many of the BMD entries only refer to the Quarter and the Registration District where the event was registered - since these are a main source of the public records.

Please get in touch with any corrections so that we can be as complete and accurate as possible.

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BrianTownsley Brotherton Sheeky Family Townsley.info

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WivesDaughters1

The above book - Wives and Daughters by Joanna Martin - provides much background information about the Fox-Strangways family, their lives and social connections.

 

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