There is, admittedly, something very comforting about curling up in front of the fireplace with a fine, leather-bound family history in hand. It just feels good -- at least, until the binding starts to break and the pages start falling out.
But for serious researchers, a Digital Edition is vastly superior to a printed edition for several reasons, detailed below. Keep in mind, please, that when we speak of a "Digital Edition" we are not talking about the kind of thing Broderbund (Family Tree Maker) produces, which requires special software to access; nor are we talking about Adobe-based page images, which are little better, and often more cumbersome to use, than books. We're talking about fully electronic texts that can be accessed by your own word processing software, with illustrations in JPEG and GIF format that you can edit with any number of image viewers.
A Digital Edition is produced by scanning the text of a book and running it through optical character recognition (OCR) software. On a good day, we can scan forty to fifty pages an hour. Images are scanned separately and saved in distinct files. The text is then "proofed" to eliminate OCR errors and put in an appropriate (and hopefully pleasing) format. On a good day, we can proof and format five to ten pages an hour. We then create the enhancements, which typically include lineage-tracking hyperlinks (a click of the mouse allows you to jump instantly from one family to the family of a child, and back again) and hyperlinks from text to images. Hyperlinks in a large genealogy (such as Huntington) number in the thousands. We produce and ship CD copies of Digital Edition genealogies on demand, usually within a day or two of receiving an order.
So, then, why is a Digital Edition better than it's printed equivalent?
Cost: Reprinted hard-copy versions of classic genealogies (available, for example, from Higginson Book Company) typically cost ten to fifteen cents a page, plus shipping. The original publications, if they can be found at all, are typically much more expensive. We're selling Digital Edition products for about five cents a page, sometimes less, shipping included. To compare prices, click on Higginson and find the publication you're interested in. Use your "back" button to return to this page.
Quality: The publications of the Higginson Book Company are typically copies of copies. The readability of the text is inferior to the original, and the images are very poor. To find out how poor, make a xerox copy of an illustration from some book, then xerox the copy. A Digital Edition is as readable as anything you can produce on your own computer, and the images are as good as their originals. Reproductions offered by the Genealogical Publishing Company (GPC) and Heritage Books are better than Higginson's, and often less expensive, but not nearly as good or as versatile as a Digital Edition. GPC and Heritage also offer publications on CD, but these can be accessed only through Adobe Acrobat or Broderbund software, which do not have the power of your word processing software.
Versatility: With Digital Editions, you can use all the tools of your word processing software. You can copy text verbatim into your own data base, file and edit it, and re-arrange it at your leisure. If the print is too small or too large for comfortable viewing you can resize it using your software's "zoom" function. If you get tired of reading black on white, you can change the color of the background and the font. You can even change the font style, if you want (though doing so may affect the document's format). And you can use your software's "search" utility to find people, places, events, dates, or anything else you might want. Try doing any of this with a hard-copy publication!
Indexes: We got into this business because one of our family histories, "Stones of Surry," had no index. It occurred to us one day that we would never be able to find anything in this book easily unless we created an electronic version that we could search with our word processing software. Bingo! The ability to search a text for a word, a phrase, or a symbol is, by itself, worth the cost of the product. One customer, who already owned a hard copy of the six-volume Bosworth genealogy (which has no index), bought the CD version just for the search capability! Even if a publication has an index, the search capability is invaluable. In the indexes of most genealogies, you'll find only the names of people. But suppose you want to find out if any of them were born in Blackfoot, Idaho, for example, or suppose you want to discover which of them served in the civil war. For these kinds of things, you need the search capability afforded by a Digital Edition.
Images: In most Digital Editions, the original illustrations are reproduced as high resolution JPEG images (there are a few exceptions). Most of these images can be enlarged to fill your computer screen without significant loss of detail. You can print them, if you want. You can copy them into your own data base or text file. You can edit them -- resize them, crop them, tint them, "watercolor" them, change the contrast -- whatever your heart desires! To see examples, Click here.
Enhancements: We never try to duplicate exactly the font or format of the original, though we use the original as a guide and mostly (with very few exceptions) preserve the pagination (except in indexes, where citing the page number is not usually an issue). Usually, however, the format that we adopt (it's different for each publication) makes a Digital Edition more readable than the original publication. We publish the images in separate files because we discovered that integrating them with text makes the text files unmanageably large. We try not to correct the errors of the original (though the temptation is great!), but we do sometimes note discrepancies -- just so you'll know that the errors or discrepancies are the author's doing, not ours! The enhancement that are especially valuable consist of hyperlinks -- hyperlinks from text to images; hyperlinks from tables of contents to designated text locations; and "lineage-tracking" hyperlinks. With hyperlinks, you can get from one place to another in a Digital Edition more quickly and more efficiently than you could with a paper-based book. Our wife (whom we love dearly) did not have a whole lot of respect for what we've been trying to accomplish with Digital Editions until we showed her the power of hyperlinks. Her comment: "Wow! This really is value added."
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