Interview with Daniel Walton

Posted November 24, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

This week we interview Daniel Walton, one of our Curators and a very active member of the Geni community.  Daniel comes from a very technical background, and in addition to his duties as a Curator he has been helping us test some of our developer features.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been researching genealogy and do you recall when you first got bitten by the bug?

I’m a Computer Engineer by trade so between work and Geni I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time on a computer. I like the outdoors though so I try to balance things out with some mountain biking, scuba diving, jogging, etc. My wife and I have two small kids and I love spending time with them. Two kids will keep you busy though :)

As for genealogy, I’m somewhat of a newbie compared to a lot of people. About two years ago I read this article on the Geekdad blog about Geni. It sounded pretty cool so I entered as many family members as I could think of off the top of my head and then invited my cousins to the tree to help fill in names and dates. I got hooked in a hurry :) I collected every family bible, old letter, and photograph I could find and started scanning tons of it and uploading it to Geni. My maternal grandfather had lots of old letters and photographs, some of them dating back to the Civil War, so I had a lot of material to work with on that part of my family. I went from not being able to name a single great-grandparent to having names, dates, photographs, etc for all of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents in about two months.

The other big thing I did was use some of the pay research sites like ancestry.com and footnote.com for a few months. I used their resources to figure out many of the names of my great-great-grandparents and beyond. The amount of genealogy research you can do on the web today is amazing and is only getting better.

Which areas of focus/areas on the Big Tree are you most interested in?

I mainly focus on historical US figures and their surrounding families. Most of my ancestors have been in the US for a while so I figure if I can clean up the older parts of the US tree that will help clean up a some of my older lines. It is also cool to see how you are related to various US Presidents and famous generals.

Have those areas of focus changed at all since you started your genealogy research?

Yes, at first I worked on researching my closer ancestors and finding as many cousins as possible. I wanted to share my research and to see if my distant cousins had any letters and photographs that they could share. This is especially true for my maternal grandfather’s tree where I have all of these old letters and photographs. Some of the letters are from aunts, uncles and cousins so I tried to find some of their descendants to share them with. I managed to find a few, some of them were very interested in their family history while others could have cared less. I guess it is normal to find some of both.

Once I was connected to the big tree though I started trying to help in cleaning up the massive number of duplicate profiles. For about the last year cleaning up the big tree has been where most of my Geni time has been spent. The big tree is finally headed in the right direction in terms of getting cleaned up. The big tree is much cleaner than it was just three months ago but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Once the big tree is clean and in more of “maintenance” state I plan on going back to researching my more immediate family. I’ve really only done a years worth of research. I have letters I’ve scanned and uploaded that I haven’t had the chance to read and transcribe yet. I look forward to getting back to those parts of my tree.

Based on some of the Projects you have started, it looks like you are particularly interested in US History and our Founding Fathers. Tell us a little bit about these projects you created.

(The projects are US Civil War Notables and US Presidents and Vice Presidents)

It seems that everyone in the US that can connect themselves with a US President or a famous Civil War General did so prior to uploading their tree to Geni. It isn’t a bad thing, it just created a lot of duplicate profiles for these famous US citizens and their surrounding families. I started these two projects so that we could try to merge the duplicates and get down to one profile for each.

My other motivation for starting these two projects were various family ties to each. Three of my gg-grandfathers and at least one ggg-grandfather fought in the Civil War (they were John Henry Henderson Walton, John Henderson Miller, William Allison Pridgen, and David L. Evans). None of them were famous or notable but they each have an interesting story. I wish I had more letters of theirs from the war.

As for the US Presidents I have a fairly close connection to George Washington, he is my second cousin eight times removed, and my wife’s family has a close connection to Thomas Jefferson. That kind of sparked my interest in how I might be related to other US Presidents.

Since Thanksgiving is this week, what can you tell us about some of the projects you are following?

(The projects are “Mayflower” Passengers: Colonial America in 1620 ProjectAlden/Mullins Family ProjectBrewster Family Project)

These are projects that were started by some of the other curators that tie in with my interest of US roots. I’ve done some work to help clean up the Mayflower passengers. I did a lot of work on John Alden and his surrounding family but I still haven’t been able to find a connection to him. The Mayflower project has been very popular though and there have been a lot of people working on that one. Many of these profiles have hundreds of duplicates (John Alden had 329 duplicate profiles) so getting them all cleaned up can take a while.

Some new users on Geni may not understand all of the terminology used on the site as well as jargon used amongst other users. Can you tell us a little about this project you created and what you mean by “Zombies“?

Geni has developed its own lingo hasn’t it? In Geni terms, a “zombie” is a profile that is marked living even though it should be dead. So for example of you find a profile for Charlemagne, who died in 814 AD, that is marked as living it would be a zombie profile. Zombies create problems because living profiles are more restricted for privacy reasons and can’t be merged easily. Curators have small tool they can use to “hunt zombies” that converts obvious zombies to deceased so that they can be merged. I started the project so users could add a zombie profile to the project and then a curator could come along and run the “hunt zombies” tool on the profile.

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