Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Partnership Town Hall with FamilySearch Executives: Partnerships (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

Rod DeGiulio
Craig Miller
Don Anderson

At RootsTech three executives from FamilySearch answered questions about partnerships. Bruce Brand was the moderator. Don Anderson is over the partner and patron services divisions, Rod DeGiulio is over the records division, and Craig Miller is over the product management and engineering divisions.

I’m at the point in my RootsTech reporting that I can’t understand all my notes, so I’m presenting them pretty much as-is. Text in square brackets [like this] are my editorial insertions or supplements not contained in my notes.

Brand asked a question about the original iPhone 2007. What was missing the first year? There were no apps. The next year they opened it up to third parties. A year ago, they had over 1,000,000 apps. [What about FamilySearch?] “Our core strategy is partnering and collaboration.”

Q; Why don’t you offer an API to allow uploading trees?

A; We have one for Family Tree, now. We will later have an API to upload a single tree.

Q; Why does Family Tree Maker not sync to FamilySearch Family Tree?

Don; That’s a question for them, rather than me. I’m hopeful they will soon sync.

Q; Are there any plans for those who have forgotten where we’ve searched?

Craig: That’s a ways out. Our priority list this year is

1. Plumbing
2. Make hints more real-time. Pretty much when you put people in you’ll see hints updated.

Don: Attach your sources. You’ll have a sense of where you have been. There are some 3rd party products.

Bruce; If you go to Person, you’ll see the last 20 persons you touched.

Don: It wouldn’t show the searches you’ve done.

Q; In my tree and in FamilySearch Family Tree I have different records attached. Is there a way to synchronize them?

Don: For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, there is a synchronize sources. It is not quite done but will be done in the next month or two. For the general public, it not available right now.

Q; When I link a record to Family Tree for a marriage, I don’t want to link to the parents.

Craig; We’re looking at having a specific template for those types of records. After we do the plumbing we’ll work towards templatizing that work.

Q; What’s an upcoming feature you’re excited about?

Rod: First of all, this year, sometime, we’ll have our new indexing platform. It will enable more flexibility for choosing projects, or even a county within a project. And more and more partnering allowing access of their records on our site; that will enable hinting.

Don: The most exciting to me is the new companies with apps. I think we’ll see the most growth in the app gallery. I’m particularly excited about and [somebody else that I didn’t capture in my notes]. Lastly, I’m very excited that within the next six months we’ll have synch with Findmypast and MyHeritage trees.

Craig: My most exciting feature is what Don just mentioned, having all the trees coming to a common base. It’s staggering in vision. That’s mind blowing. Second Is real-time hinting. Another is a novelty coming sometime during the year. It’s the notion of how we’re related. There’s a number of privacy concerns that need to be worked out.

Q; in New FamilySearch we had the ability to uncombine. Is that going to be added back in?

Craig: The ability to unmerge currently exists. We’ll enhance it to take care of IOUSes. That will be in about a year and a half.

Q; is there a plan to require people who sign up to provide contact information?

Craig: We use the Church’s system of authentication. The Church’s membership system does not require an email address because many Church members across the world don’t have access to computers. That’s one of the hundreds of reasons why. If you’re not a member of the Church, you have to have an email. Later on this year we’ll have a system of internal messages [Instead of needing to send emails]. You’ll be able to send them a message and talk to them. Whether they get back to you is their choice. We hope that will open the doors of communication.

Q; Legacy Family Tree has a sharing mechanism. It is not working right now. And when will we be able to share…[I didn’t get this down. Sources?].

Don: It is possible to fully synchronize, including sources. The only area we haven’t fully released is the Memories area. The end of the 2nd quarter or so is the timeframe for that.

Q; On living people in Family Tree, changes are made that were attributed to FamilySearch, and odd changes to names [are being made].

Craig: A lot of our information about living [persons] comes from the [Church] Membership Department. Occasionally they make a change that pulls the person from Family Tree, and then puts it back. [Occasionally this causes the problem you’re seeing.] We’re having a terrible time figuring out this plumbing problem between the Tree and the Membership Department.

Q; Sometimes you can’t combine people because of a membership record…

Craig: The two most common reasons [you can’t combine is because the merge would create an IOUS and] because in the membership system there are two membership records.

Don: When that happens, you should have an option to shoot a message to support who can approach the Membership Department about getting it fixed.

Q; You mentioned the ability to find relationships. We recently used a tool from an employee within FamilySearch, I think. Lots of people in the ward turned in membership numbers and the system found a bunch of 4th cousins. Everyone got excited about family history.

Bruce: it is called Relative finder. It is from Brigham Young University. [See It requires a FamilySearch account. If multiple people join a group, the website can look for relationships among the group. For example, I am 10th cousins with Rod DeGuilio.]

Rod: That will be a fun capability once it is introduced. I found one of my direct reports was a 3rd cousin.

Q; There is a lot of talk about ideas about storing structured citations and reasoning. Programmers say it isn’t a priority. What is the long term strategy?

Craig: We have an ongoing standard called GEDCOM X. We’re using that as a standard to transfer information. The developer you talked to is right. We’re working on lots of plumbing problems. Once that is done, we’ll be able to work on these types of problems.

Don: We are watching the quality of the tree. […] It creates the right environment to have sticky conclusions. Sources are showing up more prominently. How do we [encourage quality] without discouraging new users. We actively monitor the tree for quality measures. We have a great deal of dialog and future roadmap.

Q; The portion of the tree I see has a lot of blocked records. What is the long term plan?

Don: Records are locked for a number of reasons: IOUSes, famous individuals, early church leaders, and those before 1500s. There are processes of getting changes by involving support.

Q; What about adding impedance changes in the future to discourage bad changes?

Don: [Sorry, Don. I missed so much of your reply, I can’t understand my notes.] 

Q; How are we doing getting rights to records that custodians won’t give us access to?

Rod: It is largely a matter of prioritization. We’ve been gathering records since 1894. We are adding about 450 million images a year. We’re anticipating being able to double that. It will take a few decades before we get to all the records that members need. The work we are doing with partners certainly […]. We signed 345 contracts last year for an additional nearly 1 billion records. The rate is accelerating.

Craig is fond of saying that on June 17th, 2014 the world changed. [That’s when FamilySearch released hinting.] I believe because of improvements to the Tree, getting records online will eventually become the bottleneck.

Don: We added about 500 million additional hints a couple of weeks ago. Currently they are about 98% accuracy. On top of that we’re continuing to improve that accuracy by getting better and better cross referencing algorithms. As well as that, we’re getting new records. i hope you’re enjoying it. I hope it is improving your research; it is helping mine.

Craig: When we added the ½ billion hints, it added 100 million hints to people in the tree who had never had hints before. Go back and look in your tree, if you haven’t in the last couple of weeks. As we analyze the attached hints, we have found that one out of every ten hints extends the line.

Rod: You can tell we’re pretty excited about hints. I’ve yet to find anyone who through hinting we haven’t been able to add someone to the tree.

Craig: So please index!!

Q; Does the engineering department have enough to do, or do they accept requests? As a partner, can we make suggestions on API changes or request features?

Don: Absolutely. (Send it into Dev Support.) It will get prioritized. We love to hear the feedback.

Q; When hinting tells me it has a new person to add, it creates a duplicate that has to be merged.

Craig; What happens with the system now, when you add a person from a hint we don’t look for duplicates. In the future we will try to do that. Before you accept a hint, check for duplicates. I bring up two screens and before I add a person through record hint attach, I check to see what the situation is with that person.

Q; One of my friends found a PAF file for a Mac. She wants to add it to Family Tree. How can she do that?

Don: There is no such thing as PAF for Mac. [Someone mentioned there was a really old version.] What is my advice if you are using a MAC? Convert. There are lots of choices. Contact support. We have a team that can do conversions. Then almost any of the current programs can import that.

Q; Sometimes we’re the victims of our own success. Congratulations on dealing with the number of users. Is there a way to see how bad the latency of the system is?

Craig: Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 9 pm is the heaviest usage by far, probably by double. Then evenings. Hopefully in about a year and a half you wont even be thinking about this. [My notes don’t say it, but he may have mentioned the “plumbing changes” again.]

Q; What kind of contracts do we have [with partners for LDS memberships]? We’ve been hearing one year, five years?

Don: We don’t reveal those. Things are going very well. I don’t see any reason why the relationships won’t continue into the foreseeable future.

[I’m guessing the next and final question came from a member of the FamilySearch staff:]

Q; Will you comment on the need for camera crews?

Rod: We have a dire need for more camera volunteers. We could double the number of cameras if we had the volunteers. Go to the volunteer section of and it will give a number of ways you can help.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Studio C’s Handy Book for Genealogists (#RootsTech/#FGS2015)

When Studio C helped David Archuleta close off the RootsTech and FGS conferences this year, I’ll bet nobody in the audience knew they were watching a member of the genealogically-famous Everton family. The Everton name is well known among older genealogists. Walter M. Everton (1876-1950) was the original author of the genealogical staple, Handy Book for Genealogists. Everton also founded Everton Publishing, which published the magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Helper, for many, many years. I think four generations of the Everton family ran the business.

The Handy Book for Genealogists, 5th edition Everton's Genealogical Helper, Jan/Feb 1986

Which Studio C cast member, you ask? She was the one who did the amazing lip synch of Michael Jackson: Mallory Everton.

Mallory Everton lip synching Michael Jackson at RootsTech  Mallory Everton at RootsTech

Mallory is Walter Everton’s great-grandniece.

Which makes her my 3rd cousin. I know this thanks to the relationship-finder in the FamilySearch discovery booth in the Expo Hall.

The Ancestry Insider's Relationship to Mallory Everton

Speaking of Studio C, an observant reader caught the Ancestry Insider milling around the Studio C booth in the Expo Hall and clicked a quick pic.

Ancestry Insider with Studio C at RootsTech 2015

David Archuleta at #RootsTech/#FGS2015 Closing Social (#RTATEAM)

The Ancestry Insider with David Archuleta at RootsTechDavid Archuleta performed at the RootsTech/FGS2015 closing social and a host of amateur videographers caught virtually ever moment. His segment opened with a Spanish-language song and video commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to inspire Latino youth to seek out their family history. I haven’t found it posted officially, but you can see it on YouTube. [3:30pm NOTE: FamilySearch is asking YouTube to remove the video, so I've removed the link. The Church will post an official version later on its Latin American websites. --TAI]

David Archuleta video premiered at RootsTech 2015

David also performed “Glorious,” a song he recorded for the Church’s feature length film, Meet the Mormons.

David Archuleta's "Glorius" vido

I got a picture backstage with David. You can see it above, right. I am (apparently, the only fat one) with David and Lynn Broderick, blogger at the Single Leaf blog and guest blogger at

Read a recap of the evening’s performances in the Deseret News.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Donny Osmond Keynote at #RootsTech/#FGS

The Ancestry Insider with singer, entertainer Donny Osmond
Scott Fisher of the ExtremeGemes radio show
and Amy Urman of The Genealogy Search blog,
with me, hangin' with our good friend, Donny Osmond.
“When you discover more about your ancestors, you discover more about yourself,” Donny Osmond said. Donny was one of the keynote speakers at RootsTech. He told us that he loved that anyone can do family history. He, himself, received the family genealogy from his mother. (We all appreciate having someone interested in receiving our life’s work.) Donny said that in his spare time he worked on his family history while staring as Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.

Donny told us that a lot of his life story has been captured on film and video, but that our life story is every bit as important as his, even more so, to our descendants. Don’t your children want to know what you are like? We need to document and record our family stories, both funny and inspirational stories. You never know when those will keep someone going when things get rough, he told us.

Friday, February 27, 2015

More Than Serendipity in Tan Le’s #RootsTech/#FGS2015 Keynote (#RTATEAM)

Tan Le’s voice wavered a bit and she shed a tear or two as she spoke of her grandmother and some special moments they shared. Le shared them with us in her RootsTech keynote. Now FamilySearch has shared them with you in a three minute video on their YouTube channel. See “#RootsTech 2015 Keynote: Tan Le Remembers Her Grandmother.”


To see her presentation in its entirety, with both the Thursday keynote presentations, visit the RootsTech website.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Search Ancestry Like a Pro (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

At RootsTech, Crista Cowan presented “Search Like a Pro.”

“Remember, you are not searching for people; you are searching for records about people,” said Cowan. She presented the process she uses to find records.

  • Start by looking at the hints. [Click the leaf shown in the person page—below—or on the tree view.]
    Fred Ross Cown example from person page on

    “Ancestry provides hints for the top 10% of our most popular databases as a way to get people started in their discoveries.” They are just hints not certainties. Pay attention to record hints first. Use hints to other family trees as clues. [I might emphasize this. The evidentiary value of other people’s family trees is much, much less than the evidentiary value of original records. ---tai]
  • When you follow a hint, you are going to link to a record page. Pay attention to the view button on the record page (#1 in the image below). “Always, always, always look at the image.” The image is going to have more information than the record page. [And there is always the possibility of transcription errors.]
    Fred R Cowan census record example from

    When you find a record about your ancestor, attach the record to your tree so you don’t have to search for it again. [Also, marks it as such in search results and the record page (#2 in the image above). When you come across it again, you know you’ve already discovered it.]

  • While you are looking at an ancestor’s record, look at the suggested records shown along the side (#3 in the image above). This is like which shows you a list of the other things people bought who bought what you bought. That’s what suggested records are. These are records that other members have attached to the same person in their trees.
  • After you’ve looked at the hints, there are still more records to find. There are misspellings, wrong ages, and other reasons why hinting doesn’t find all the records. Search starting from the tree. [Underneath the portrait in the first image above, click “Search records.”] fills in the search boxes for you with every piece of information known about that person, including every place they have ever lived and all their immediate family. “We do this because we want to see what records bubble to the top. Is there any single record that has all the information? No, so we present a list of ranked results.” Pay attention to the records that show up at the top of the list of results. Don’t go through too many pages of results. Stop after a page or two. Then switch from records to categories.
  • Craft a basic search. [I can’t remember for sure what my notes mean by this. Perhaps she was recommending trying a search without all the extra detail added by starting a search from the tree. That’s what I do at this point. The extra detail suppresses results from databases with fewer fields.] Use the advanced search form. Once you choose to use the advanced search form, it remembers. It has more fields which will make it possible to do a more powerful search. Think about the kind of record you are searching for when crafting a search.
  • Do a global search. It searchers over 32,000 titles containing over 15 billion records. That number is growing by one million new records every day.
  • Do a category search. It searches only records that are included in a specific category. Categories are listed along the right side of the main search page. [I think Cowan also pointed out the special categories found in the lower-right corner: New York 400th anniversary, African American, and Jewish family history. Over the years there have been others. They didn’t included them in the list, so they may not be current. I’ve seen  NARA, U.S. Military, and others.]
  • Do a database search to search for records in a specific database. Extra search boxes are present to allow matching fields not present in a global search.