Monday, May 2, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Do I Specify Periods In Searches

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Insider,

How do FamilySearch and Ancestry "handle" periods following an initial in records searches?

Would I be better off not including the period in my search phrase?

Example:  John J. Smith (for John Jay Smith or John Jones Smith)

Gary Barton

Dear Gary,

As I wrote back on 28 April 2016, FamilySearch ignores initials you specify. FamilySearch instructions indexers to leave them out and I am guessing when they buy an index from someone else, they strip out any they find—for consistency.

Back on 23 April 2016 when I wrote this, I searched for “A P Raymond” (set to exact) on I received matches for both “A. P. Raymond” and “A P Raymond”. I did the same search with periods and got the same result, so apparently it doesn’t matter.

Short answer: it doesn’t matter.

Incidentally, Ancestry also gave matches for “P A Raymond”, and “L A Lyle P Raymond”. Apparently, they use the same rules for exact searches that FamilySearch used to use. Exact search on Ancestry requires the specified names be present, but additional names may be present and the specified names may be present in any order. You’ll recall FamilySearch changed their exact search recently. They changed their exact to be “exact” (ignoring punctuation, …).

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, April 29, 2016

Darned Sketchy Death Certificate

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable. Records say the darnedest things!

Donna Hoskins Backus was excited when Texas death certificates went online. Her paternal brick wall ancestor died in Texas.

“It took us several decades to find my grandfather’s family,” Donna says.  “Why? His parents divorced before 1902, when he was very young, and his mother moved them to New Mexico from Texas and remarried.”

She was able to locate her great-grandfather’s death certificate. But the information was sketchy:

M B Hoskins death certificate, Crowell, Texas, 21 October 1913

He was known in town only as M.B. (Family lore has it that he went by his initials so as to give more prestige to his position as a lawyer.) His age was unknown. His birthplace was unknown. No information was known about his parents.

The information was so sketchy, the informant seemed compelled to explain why in a marginal notation: “Was a Recluse. No Relatives here.” The informant was the undertaker. Sadly, the only thing that seemed to define M.B. to his fellow citizens was his divorce.

He died alone.

Now in my opinion, the information is not only sketchy, it is sketchy. The date of death has obviously been “corrected” and the date of the doctor’s signature may have been as well.

The cause of death is “Don’t know.” The signature of the town doctor, Hines Clark appears sketchy:

Signature of Hines Clark as it appears on the M B Hoskins death certificate, 21 October 1913.

On other certificates from around this time it appears like this:

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Virgina Jineveel Campbell death certificate, signed 29 September 1913

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Cora Washburn death certificate, signed 18 March 1913

Signature of Dr. Hines Clark, Mary Belle Allie death certificate, signed about 19 January 1913

Donna’s grandfather was just a teenager when his father, M.B., died. “He was sent by train to attend to his estate, finding on arrival other relatives had come and gone,” Donna says. “Yes, all of the money and negotiables were gone.”

Darned, sketchy records!

Thank you, Donna Hoskins Backus, for sharing this record.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

FamilySearch Search Tip: Exact Search

FamilySearch Historical Records search form with the Exact boxes checkedFamilySearch recently tuned the Exact setting of its search system. Next to each text field in the FamilySearch search is a little square. Checking that box invokes exact mode. But what does that mean? The question is not as simple as you might think. Ostensibly, searchers want records that exactly match what they type. But when asked the following questions, most changed their minds about how the exact mode should work.

1. If you enter Howard as the first name, do you want exact search to match records with first name HOWARD as often occurs in electronic databases? What about O’brian and O’Brian? What about “de la Vega” and “De la Vega”? When quizzed specifically, most searchers want exact, except for case.

2. If you enter “de la Vega” as the last name, do you want exact search to match records keyed as “Dela Vega” or Delavega? Most searchers with European ancestry want exact to also ignore spaces in names.

3. If you enter José, do you want exact search to match records without the accent (Jose)? Most searchers say yes.

4. If you enter O’Brian, do you want it to match records keyed as OBrian? Most searchers say yes.

With these changes, FamilySearch exact mode now returns exactly what you enter, with those four allowances: case is ignored, spaces are ignored, diacritical marks are ignored, and punctuation is ignored.

Previously, FamilySearch allowed three more exceptions.

5. If you enter first names “Mark John,” should it match just Mark? Just John? It used to.

6. Should “Mark John” match “Mark John or Jack”? It used to.

7. Should “Mark John” match “John Mark”? It used to. I talked to a researcher recently who found that to be a common practice in a certain area he was researching in.

Why did FamilySearch make the change? I asked Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch product manager.

“We were trying to be too smart and guess what would be most valuable to the user,” said Robert, “and that unfortunately took power away from the user and caused a lot of confusion about what ‘Exactly’ the system was doing.”

With these changes, FamilySearch expects the behavior of the system will match the expectations of most searchers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Legit or Phishing Scheme?

Phishing Magnifier Represents Malware Hacker And HackedSeveral readers have alerted me to a possible phishing scheme masquerading as an email from Reader “T” reported that he received the following message:

Hi Removed,

Ancestry has moved to a brand new support platform. By doing so we have created a more powerful set of tools as well as added some key features to aid you with any of your future support needs. To take part in this new experience; you will need to reset your password by clicking on the following link: [he removed the rest of the link].

Your Username is: Removed

Ancestry Support

I assume he substituted the word “Removed” for his username, but for illustration, let’s assume it actually said “Removed.” Darlene in Lakeview reported that her email really did contain an incorrect username.

Sandra Gwilliam reported that the email came from “ via”

There are a number of red flags that rightly trigger suspicion about an email. (This example contains several.)

  • Purports to be from one address when it comes from a different one. (In this example, the email claimed to be from but was actually from That’s suspicious.)
  • Does not state your username. That’s a big, big red flag. Genuine phishing emails generally don’t know your username. Purporting to know your username, but stating it incorrectly should throw perhaps an even bigger red flag.
  • The email seeks confidential information, such as username, password, birthdate, address, social security number, or other financial information. Be careful. I investigated one phishing website that sent off your information as you typed it. It didn’t wait for you to submit the information. The first question was pretty safe: email address. The second seemed so as well: First and Last name. Next, address. Somewhere down the page it asked for credit card. Finally, it asked for the number at the bottom of your checks. By the time you became suspicious, they had already stolen valuable information about you. You didn’t have to click Submit or Send or anything. (This example seeks your password, making it suspicious. No one told me what happened when they clicked the link.)
  • The email is unexpected, or isn’t logical. In this example, you might have tested the situation by typing into your browser and try logging in. If you are not prompted to change your password, then the email doesn’t make sense.
  • Your email program indicates that the link goes to someplace different than what is shown. This is another big, big red flag. Never click a link in an unexpected email without comparing the two addresses. More on that in a minute. (I don’t know if that was the case in this example.)

Let me teach you how to do the last one. You should have received an article on Sunday titled “Suspicious Links.” It contains one suspicious link and three non-suspicious links. I sent it separately because some of you may have email systems that blocked the email. (Kudos to those email systems.)

Hover over each link and look for a little help box that shows where the link will actually go. (See the screen image, below, from Gmail.) If what is displayed in the email and what is displayed in the little help box are different, that is a big red flag. Don’t click the link. The link is not what it claims to be. The email sender may be trying to deceive you. The link may show the address of your bank but send you to a malicious imposter site that tricks you into giving up your username and password. Go ahead and click “” Did you end up on 

Hover over a link in a browser-based email program to see the actual destination in the bottom corner.

Some programs popup the actual link somewhere other than the lower corner. Current versions of Microsoft mail programs place it near the link itself:

Hover over a link in some email programs to see the actual destination near the link.

Be careful. The two addresses may look very similar. Take for example, these addresses:


Links 5 and 6 are not the same. Don’t trust the link.

If you are confused, stop here. If not, let me get into additional details. The absence of http:// is not a concern. And http:// versus https:// is not a problem. Some addresses work equally well with or without them. Links 7-9 are all equivalent.


No Address Displayed

Sometimes an email may not display an address at all. It may say “Click here to change your password.” How do you evaluate the safety of the link? Hover over the link and look at the address. If the domain shown by the email popup ends with a website you trust, then you can trust the link.

Recognizing the domain can be tricky. The domain is the part between the double slash and the next slash. The domain of link 3 is The domain of link 5 is The domain of link 6 is

Assuming the only websites you trust are and, if you found the following URLs in an email, which can you assume to be safe?

       10. – No. The domain ends with .org, not .com.
       11. – No. Doesn’t end with (Yes, in real life we may know this domain forwards to, but some people may not know that before clicking. For purposes of this exercise, we are only clicking domains ending in or
       12. – Yes. Domain ends in
       13.*Vj – No. BTW, this is the old Ancestry Help system.
       14. – No. The domain is
       15. – No.
       16. – Yes, according to the rules we’ve defined here. Actually, this URL is bad because it exploits an Ancestry security hole. But I won’t get into that.
       17. – No. This is a FamilySearch book, but it is hosted on a website outside our trust list (for this exercise).
       18. – No.
       19. – Yes.
       20. – No. Domain is

Legit or Phishing Scheme?

While you were right to be suspicious of these emails, actually, they are legit. Ancestry is switching to a new help system that doesn’t integrate with your Ancestry username and password. You have to create a new password on the new system. Link 12 leads to this help message:

Hello Thomas,

Just to clarify, this is not a phising attack or scam. We have sent out emails to notify our members of the new Ancestry Support page as it requires our members to reset their password. Let us know if you have any further questions, and we hope you enjoy!

Karlie B.
Ancestry Community Moderator

I tried out the new system and it was a hunk of junk. I registered and it sent me a verification email—the one you all have been getting—that sent me to a webpage that sent me a verification email that sent me to a webpage that sent me a verification email… There was no link to get help. “Contact your administrator.” Fail.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ancestry DNA $79 Sale

Ancestry DNA $79 is running their periodic $79 sale for their DNA test kits. They list at $99 and regularly go on sale for $89. The $79 sale price comes just a couple times a year. Today’s sale is celebrating National DNA Day (in the United States), 25 April 2016 and runs through Tuesday, 26 April 2016 at 11:59 EDT. The offer excludes taxes and shipping. Order at

To learn more about the science behind Ancestry’s interpretation of your DNA results, watch the free Ancestry Academy class “Behind the Scenes: The Science Behind AncestryDNA Results” by Dr. Catherine Ball, VP Genomics & Bioinformatics at Ancestry. Watch this class for free at

This is Ancestry’s description of the class:

Methods behind ancestry estimation, DNA matching, and other AncestryDNA features are at the forefront of human genetics research – with many unresolved questions and issues. We walk through the scientific process upon which your AncestryDNA results are built, primarily focusing on DNA matching as a case study. Using the scientific method, we look at the development of a new version of DNA matching: from our hypothesis and suspicion of false positive matches, to results from extensive research and data exploration, and finally to the development and evaluation of new algorithms. We discuss the advantage of our large database, which has led to, and will continue to lead to, other influential findings powering new AncestryDNA features.

The entire course runs about 30 minutes, but you can choose which of nine segments to listen to.