PDF In-Depth

PDF Web Capture - Creating a Millennium Family Tree

December 02, 1999

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Looking for a good use of the Web Capture feature of Adobe Acrobat 4.0? See if this one is relevant to your interests or publication needs.

On the eve of a new millennium, many internet users have been inspired to try out new on-line tools available for tracing their family roots. Time Magazine had a cover story on this phenomenon earlier this year and the Christian Science Monitor ran a story just last week. Figuring prominently in these stories is the May (1999) inauguration of http://www.familysearch.com. Created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this site offers free, on-line access to the world's largest repository of genealogical information.

What does this have to do with PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format)? Let me explain.

I have long wanted to create a written record of my family tree. Accumulating scraps of information, photos, and tree sketches, it was pretty obvious that if some family member didn't document all of it, parts: 1) would get lost or become illegible and 2) would never be distributable. Beyond my immediate family of 6 there are numerous siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and, hopefully, future generations to come who might like to have a documented record. Up to 4 years ago I have been always assumed the deliverable would be a printed and bound book. No longer.

Prior to PDF, digital files were hard to publish uniformly without extensive file conversion. In addition to vector and/or bitmap graphics and fonts, there were cross-platform issues, file dimensions, media, and the future of media development to consider. Also, most of the best genealogical programs are database programs that create their own format of printable output.

Enter PDF. Virtually any printable digital file can be converted to PDF and stored on a cross-platform or hybrid CD-ROM with installable versions of Reader stored with it.With PDF you can easily publish and distribute a family tree with pictures and documentation all in a single format.

Okay. So what does this have to do with Acrobat's Web Capture feature?

For tracing family trees, the most powerful area of the Family Search website is its Pedigree Charts area. If you can find a thread of your family tree from among these charts then you are "off to the races." My tree, which already stretched back 300 years, now features a continuous thread that dates back to 193 A.D.- almost a full TWO millenniums of documented family ancestory!

When I first started tracing the lineage, I made printouts of the legal-sized charts. That gets old fast so I decided I would save the HTML pages directly onto my hard disk so that they could be searchable. Unfortunately, that wouldn't work. The problem is that the chart pages are merely shells into which the requested data dynamically populates the fields. How could I save the pages with the data and their links?

Enter Acrobat's Web Capture feature. By pasting the URL for an individual Pedigree Chart into the File/Open Web Page URL field, the user can download and view each page within Acrobat after it has been automatically converted to a fixed, legal-size PDF.

What's more, all of the links are downloaded with it so that linked pages can be accessed directly. Clicking on a name reveals a personal profile of that individual. Clicking on the arrows along the right margin links to more charts of that person's ancestors.

Within a matter of about 2 hours, I had downloaded 81 pages of my ancestors' Pedigree Charts with an average of 6 names per chart!

Then, using the Annotation feature (see the PDF linked to the illustration at left) I was able to add sticky notes and highlights to draw attention to interesting people and threads within the charts. Afterwards, by rescanning the document, all of the notations act as bookmarks providing the viewer with a quick way of finding the most interesting information.

Other annotations, like the pushpin link to attached files or the microphone link to sound files, allow the designer to fill these PDFs with a rich array of archived documents.

Furthermore, anyone who receives these files can simply click on a link and steer their documentation into directions that I bypassed (ancestral siblings, for instance).

Other Uses

There is other data available over the web that populates HTML shells like these charts. Capturing these pages is easy with Acrobat's Web Capture feature.

If you discover other uses for Web Capture like this one, please drop me a line and tell me what it is.

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