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Louis Kessler's Genealogical Activities

Last Update: January 20, 2014


Welcome! I have a fair bit of experience in the hobby of Genealogy,
and I hope I can provide you with something of interest while you browse my web site.

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My hobby of Genealogy began fairly abruptly. At my cousin Edith's house in 1974, with an out-of-town relative there from Los Angeles, a few of the cousins started piecing together a small chart of how the family was related. The nine Braunstein brothers and sisters (that included my grandfather) were scrawled onto a napkin. That was it! I was hooked.

I went to the library and borrowed books on Genealogy. I talked to my parents and all my uncles and aunts and asked them what they knew. I collected all the information from everyone, read dozens of books about doing and organizing your Genealogy, and tried to find a way of making sense out of everything I had.

At University, I used an online text formatter in a language called SCRIPT. There were no PCs then, and I had to use a terminal to update my files that ran on the University's mainframe and print them at their batch printer. I used SCRIPT to create large documents in a similar manner that people use Word Processors on PCs today. What I found was that SCRIPT had wonderful commands to structure a document and automatically produce a Table of Contents and Index. I proceeded to enter all my Genealogical info into a document, and did so for a friend of mine (who had even a larger tree than I did). The resulting 200 and 400 page documents were a marvel. They were the first incarnation of what I call the genealogical "Everything Report". I used them extensively. In later years, when PCs and commercial genealogy programs became available, I looked for one that had my Everything Report. But there never was anything just like it.

For many years, Genealogy was a part-time special-event hobby. Whenever some important family get-together came along, I would hustle to work on and update that side of my family tree, and make a point of talking to some of the less-often seen relatives about the family. Yes, I also visited archives, libraries, and cemeteries, and sent for vital statistics, and always kept anything of interest - but the "human" things were of most interest to me - the stories, the letters, and the photos and scrapbooks.

In 1988, my father and I made a special trip together to Saskatchewan, and we visited all the places of his childhood - including his two sections of land and the building he grew up in. I videotaped this prized experience.

In 1992, I read that the Genealogical Institute of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada was trying to put together an exhibit of family trees. This intrigued me, so I went to a few meetings. The family tree exhibit never did come to pass, but I did develop a great interest in the activities of the Jewish Historical Society, and was interested in helping develop the Genealogical Institute. In November 1993, I held a workshop on beginning Jewish Genealogy that was attended by about 25 individuals. In June 1994, I accepted the role of Program Chairman for the Genealogical Institute of the JHSWC. In the Fall of 1994, I wrote a series of eight articles on Jewish Genealogy that were printed in the Jewish Post, our local weekly paper. In December 1994, I became a board member of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada. In 1995, I joined the Archives and Acquisitions committee of the JHSWC. I have given many talks on Genealogy to various groups in the city, and still annually talk to the Grade Six students at Shore Elementary School, who each year do a family history project.

In the meantime, my computer expertise (see also my Computer Chess exploits) led me to see the natural benefits of using computers for Genealogy. My early computer family tree listings had since evolved into sophisticated family charts using spreadsheets, and I wanted to see what else was available. In July 1992, I started subscribing to Ancestry's "Genealogical Computing" magazine. In December 1993, I joined the National Genealogical Society, primarily to obtain the NGS/CIG digest.

In March 1994, I joined the Muddy Waters Computer Society, a local society that had a computer-genealogy special interest group. The Society's bulletin board also gave me access to several dozen genealogical newsgroups on the Internet and Fidonet, as well as hundreds of genealogical programs and data files. I tried most of the shareware programs that were out there, and quickly learned the good and the bad about each of them. The original program I decided on was Philip Brown's "Family History System" - partly because of its unique "relative report" that was the closest thing I had seen to the Everything Report that I wanted. But, FHS's method of data input was not the easiest to use, and I ultimately purchased Reunion for Windows as my base program.

However, the lack of the concept of an Everything Report was missing from all of the hundreds of genealogical computer and utility programs that were available. They all seemed to concentrate on data input and not data output. So in 1994, to address this problem, I started working on my program: Behold. Over the course of a year, I developed a program that read from a GEDCOM file, and produced an organized, indexed Everything Report.

I gave several talks to the Muddy Waters Computer Society Genealogy SIG. In December 1994, I demo'd Reunion for the group. In March 1995, I demo'd an early Beta test of my program Behold. Each person gave me their GEDCOM in advance, and I produced a report for them from my Beta test. It met with rave reviews! In November 1995, I presented the topic "Genealogical Source Documentation - or - Where the h--- did you get that?" And in March 1996, I showed the group the Genealogical features of America Online. I really enjoyed this group. Unfortunately it disbanded soon after this.

In 1996, I had some very detailed e-mail discussions with Frank Leister and Brad Walter of Leister Productions, producers of Reunion that was then one of the best Genealogy programs available. I had already purchased and did like their program for data input. I was giving them all the details of what I thought was needed in an Genealogy program. I went over with them in detail my ideas of an Everything Report and many other concepts I had. The conversation was excellent, but in the end they went their own way. Their ideas were different.

I spent a good part of 1996 and 1997 devoted to our Cemetery Photography Project, with much of my time spent developing the databases and manually checking each entry at the cemetery. There was a lot of administration involved with this project and our project team was kept very busy.

In January 1997, I put up my web pages. There was a major emphasis on genealogy, but it was also a lot of other stuff of interest to myself and my family. I also maintained pages for the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada and its Genealogical Institute. Over the years, I gained a great deal of expertise in developing and designing web pages, and all manner and forms of using the Internet. The various webpages we have put up have put us in contact with many interesting and important people that we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to converse with.

My Family Research and Unsolved Mysteries was my way of posting my Genealogical research. I don't believe in posting everything you've got, but only post enough so that people who you might be able to share info with can contact you. I think I have an innovative way of presenting this, by presenting my Mysteries. Well, over the years, I've had over 200 people contact me as a result of that page, of which 30 or so were actually related in some way, and 20 of them were previously unknown relatives. Due to these contacts, I have made significant advances on 5 of my 9 lines of ancestry that I am researching. I cannot be more pleased.

I also started My Genealogy Program Links Page as a way to keep track of the hundreds of Genealogical programs that were available. I couldn't find an equivalent list anywhere else, so I made one for myself and thought that the general genealogical community could make use of it as well. I think I was right. That page is one of the most popular pages on my site getting over 120 hits a day. I keep this page, as well as a Jewish Genealogy Links Page, a Jewish Winnipeg Links Page, and a Computer Chess Links Page up to date by adding to them whenever I hear of anything new coming along and link checking to remove no-longer existing sites.

In 1997, Leister Productions decided to concentrate on developing their program for the Mac and soon sold their PC rights to Sierra Inc., who renamed the program to be Generations. I became a Beta tester for Generations in the Fall of 1998, and it was an interesting experience to work through a program in detail looking for bugs and pass on my comments in an environment that my comments get responses from the project team leader. It gave me a real idea of the sort of work involved in a commercial venture such as that. They had a team of programmers working full-time trying to put together a product with an amazing range of features, eliminating all possible bugs, in as little time as possible. Phew! Tough job. I didn't even bother suggesting to them most of my concepts for a Genealogy program. The impossibility of going down to the guts of the program and changing it was quite apparent to me.

In late 1998, I became the Chair of the Heritage Acquisitions Committee for the newly formed Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, and became a member of the executive of the JHCWC. By April 1999, I finished the work to put the JHCWC website up which I still maintain for them. And I also worked to add major enhancements to the JHCWC's database program.

From 1999 on, I started working on Behold more diligently. There was a lot to do. From becoming an expert at the programming language Delphi, to learning object-oriented programming, to looking at all sorts of third-party tools for text editing and tree structure and user interface features, to looking at marketing and shareware and registration techniques, to keeping up on what all the other genealogy programs do, to studying all other software for their techniques and user interfaces. Then the programming itself involved taking my old code, rewriting it all in Delphi, redoing the memory management functions, designing and redesigning the user interface, planning, changing plans, implementing features, testing the features, writing down new ideas, researching new ideas, finding bugs and limitations, determining cause of bugs, researching solutions. Let me just say, that if you've never programmed a major system before, and want to make it airtight - it is no small task.

In October 2000, I became a member of the Manitoba Heritage Grants Council. This is a Board of volunteers with expertise in various heritage fields, that meet twice a year to evaluate and approve Grant applications to the Provincial Government for Heritage-based projects, including exhibitions, programming, collections management, conservation, publications and research. It is very interesting and encouraging to see the number and scope of projects that are being taken on. My only wish was that the Government would have more money available for such important projects.

In early 2002 I accepted Vice Presidency of the JHCWC, and had a two-year term as President from January 2003 to December 2004. There were a number of major challenges to keep the Centre vibrant and viable, and I worked very hard to try to help build a successful future for our Centre. I accepted my role as Past President in January 2005 and will continue on the Board and Executive of the Heritage Centre and will help out where I can. But I have told them that I need divert those hundreds of hours of my time that I spent on the Heritage Centre back to my program Behold.

For the last few years, my own genealogy work has slowed to a crawl. Any information I happen to come across gets thrown into my source files. I will await version 2 of Behold, to enter all my mass of material. It will be an excellent test to see if Behold can accept all that stuff.

On my personal website, I had a Genealogy Software Links page where I cataloged 355 programs over the years. I made that page available as a resource to genealogists, and over 11 years, it had over 400,000 hits. But I always wanted that to be something more - an interactive site with users contributing. So in September 2008, I replaced my links page with a site I custom built using WordPress that I named Genealogy Software Reviews and I procured the domain gensoftreviews.com for it. That site enables users to add their reviews and ratings for the programs they use. At the end of 2009, I starting awarding the GenSoftReviews User Choice Awards to the programs that had at least 10 reviews and a rating of 4.0 or more out of 5. That has become an annual event.

In November 2010, I joined and contributed many of my ideas to the BetterGEDCOM Project and after that to FamilySearch's GEDCOM X, and the Family History Information Standards Organization (FHISO).

In February 2011, I joined Twitter, and started Tweeting to the world, mostly genealogy information. In July 2011, I joined Google Plus, primarily again for genealogy purposes.

I am a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). And I've been doing a bit of lecturing on the genealogy circuit, locally and internationally on a host of various topics, from technology to running a society.

In the meantime, in my spare time (if you can call it that, after my family, my job, my website work, my JHCWC work, and other day-to-day duties), I continue to work hard on my program Behold. I have a Behold Blog to document my progress and to keep me motivated and on track. Behold is an important lifetime goal for me. I really believe Behold can change the face of genealogical computing. After too many years and too many near misses, I finally released an alpha version of Behold on March 20, 2005 that received superb reviews. I continued work on the alpha version for four years. On November 30, 2009, I released the first beta version of Behold. The beta work continued until the official release of Version 1.0 on November 24, 2011 (as my 55th birthday present to myself). Work is still continuing on to Version 2.0 which will add editing and bring Behold close to its final form as a full-featured genealogy program. I will not rest until the ideas behind Behold have been fully presented to the world.


Currently, I am still heavily involved in many aspects of Genealogy. Please visit my other pages that have more detail about my specific involvements:

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My Home Page
What's New | Your Last Stop
My Family Research | My Genealogical Activities
Jewish Heritage Centre | Cem Photo Project | Jewish Winnipeg Links
Beginning Genealogy | Jewish Gen Links
GenSoftReviews | GEDCOM Search
Speaker Topics
Computer Chess | Game Viewer | Chess & CC Links
Cheryl | Brenna | Brittany
New Addams Family | Mummies Alive! | SOMA
Behold

You can reach me by e-mail at:

Copyright © Louis Kessler
All Rights Reserved