04 February 2012

LeafSeek: Share the forest . . . as well as the trees

Brooke Schreier Ganz likes to share.  And we should all be happy she does. On Friday, 3 February 2012, her LeafSeek application was awarded second place in the Developer Challenge at RootsTech 2012. LeafSeek is the engine underlying the new Gesher Galicia search page. On Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah, I listened to Brooke’s RootsTech presentation and then sat down with her for further conversation. 

Brooke Schreier Ganz at RootsTech
Brooke’s web development pedigree is impressive: she has worked at IBM, Disney Consumer Products division, and Bravo cable television. She now works part time from home so she can spend time with and care for her two little “start-ups.”

True to her nature, it was a database and its useful search engine (Jewish Roots Indexing-Poland) that first got Brooke interested in tracing her family history. Her family hails mostly from the Ukrainian portion of Galicia, as well as Poland and Moldova. Her husband’s family, which she is also tracing, has Polish, Romanian (Hungarian) and Sephardic (from the Isle of Rhodes) roots.

Gesher Galicia has been acquiring a variety of data sets including vital records, tax lists, landsmanshaften lists, industrial permit lists, and school and government yearbooks and wanted to put these 192,268 (and counting) records online in one database for Jewish genealogists’ use. Enter Brooke. While awake late at night with her baby, she’d sometimes use her iPhone to research the problem. Later, after much needed sleep, she’d work on the coding. In designing LeafSeek, Brooke sought to address the complexity of developing an effective search for multiple data sets with diversities of language, political boundaries and subdivisions, types of information, spelling, etc. all in one database. These are the issues with which all genealogists studying families from Eastern Europe have to contend. The Gesher Galicia database is proving to be fertile ground for beta testing the tool.

If you had Jewish relatives from Galicia, try a search.  One of the most valuable features on the Search Gesher Galicia website in the unlimited wildcard search in both the given name and surname fields.  There are no minimums for the number of letters required or maximums for the number of asterisks.  In your results, click on the + to expand the information in the record.  If information is provided on the current town name, click on that to see a map of its location.

Before heading to Salt Lake City I’d searched the Gesher Galicia database by entering one of my Galitzianer surnames (Liebross) in the search box and received one result. Mene Liebross of Okopy died in 1873.  The information in the result included the Family History Library (FHL) microfilm number.  How slick it that!?! I located the record on Wednesday at the FHL.

Facets on the left side of the results page allow easy sorting through results.  They include information on types and number of records, top surnames and given names, locations, years, etc. In the future expect to see the addition of hierarchical facets so that in addition to town names, one may also select parameters such as country, province, or district. 

Second Place Award for LeafSeek
Some time soon, Brooke plans to add the Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching (BMPM) system for names. She is also quite taken by the example set by Steve Morse’s One-Step website: “Steve Morse is incredible and inspiring not only for his work but also because he made his work open source – for everyone’s benefit.” Open source means that LeafSeek’s code is available free for anyone’s use.  Brooke visualizes LeafSeek as “a genealogy search engine in a box,” available to those who have need of its features.  She has plans for further features and improvements and hopes that others will use it and add to it. In fact, if you notice things that need correction or have suggestions for additional features, contact Brooke via the "contact us" button at the bottom of the Gesher Galicia webpage. She's always happy to make improvements.

I believe that LeafSeek will provide the opportunity to put databases such as JRI-Poland on steroids.  Imagine the JRI-Poland database with enhanced pattern recognition to better understand the connections among records and the people in them. Right now to do that, one would have to design and laboriously populate a spreadsheet with all the data elements found in one's JRI-Poland results. Only then, could one manipulate the data to see the patterns. LeafSeek has the potential to do much of that for us. 

So, congratulations to Brooke and thanks for sharing.

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