Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Mailbox: Preservation of Photos and Stories on FamilySearch

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I have been using FamilySearch Memories as my main repository for family history-related photographs and documents, with the hopes that this material will be preserved “forever.”  Do you think there is a chance that the LDS Church could abandon the FamilySearch Family Tree and Memories projects, with all of this material being lost?

Thomas Abbott

Dear Thomas,

There is always a chance your scanned images of photographs and documents could be lost. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently reaffirmed the Church’s belief that it will endure forever and one of its duties is offering ordinances to both the living and the dead. If he is correct ((and I believe he is), then your images are not in danger for reasons of the Church ceasing to exist or losing interest in family history work. However, there are other reasons to consider. Storing those images is very expensive and preserving them is more difficult than you might think. One can argue that preserving them is not essential to offering ordinances to the dead. There is always the possibility that the Church would divest that portion of their family history efforts to one of the many other companies offering that service. Failure of that 3rd party then becomes a possibility. There are no plans to do this, but one can not rule out the possibility that it could someday happen. And there is always the possibility of catastrophic failure that inadvertently destroys all the Church’s copies of your images. I think that would be nearly impossible, but stranger things happen.

Similar arguments can be applied to FamilySearch Family Tree. I believe there is an additional risk for Family Tree. If FamilySearch can’t find a way for non-genealogists and competent genealogists to coexist in the same tree, then Family Tree might collapse under its own weight.

I believe the lesson here is the same one we talked about last week: many copies of images and information increase the possibility that they will survive.

The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, March 25, 2017

NGS 2017 Conference Early Bird Registration Deadline is MONDAY (#NGS2017GEN)

Monday is the early bird deadline for the National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference! Gak! I should have warned you earlier!

This year the conference is in Raleigh, North Carolina on the 10th through the 13th of May 2017 at the Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury Street. There are more than 175 lectures and workshops to choose from. Classes are organized in tracks, although you can move about classes without regard to the tracks:

  • African American
  • DNA
  • family stories
  • historical context
  • international
  • maps and locations
  • methodology
  • military
  • Native American
  • North Carolina research
  • organizing research
  • problem solving
  • records and repositories
  • regional movement
  • religion
  • research in the states
  • research planning
  • skill building
  • technology
  • tips and techniques
  • working with records

For more information, check out the registration brochure and visit the conference website.

I am honored to again be accepted as an official social media contributor for the conference!

The Ancestry Insider is a member of the official social media press for the the National Genealogical Society 2017 Family History Conference.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The New and Improved Find A Grave Shown at #RootsTech

Peter Drinkwater at RootsTech 2017At RootsTech 2017 Peter Drinkwater showed off a late-alpha prototype for a new Find A Grave website. Fearing the worst, he was quite happy when the presentation didn’t devolve into a lynching. Find A Grave diehards are that passionate. Peter asked for a show of hands of those who use Find A Grave. Every hand went up except for one older gentleman who had, apparently, fallen asleep. He asked for a show of hands of those who have contributed to Find A Grave. I think up to half of the attendees raised a hand. This was a crowd to be feared.

Peter Drinkwater is the general manager for Find A Grave, a website owned by Ancestry. While the session was titled “Getting to Know the New Find A Grave,” Peter first helped us get to know the old Find A Grave. Find A Grave was created in 1995 by Jim Tipton. “Jim Tipton lived here in Salt Lake and he had a hobby of collecting dirt from famous people’s graves,” Peter said. “He created Find A Grave as a place to document that and let other people share the locations of [famous] graves.” In 2000 he added the ability to document the graves of ordinary people. In January 2017 there were 157 million graves. For all those years, the website looked almost the same.

“It is with great trepidation that I even think about touching this,” he said. Why would we make a change, he asked? The code is quite old and there aren’t many developers who are comfortable in it. Modernizing the code will make it more secure, easier to work on, and make it possible to use new tools to improve the site.

The second reason to change it is to make it usable via a mobile device. More than 30% of visits to the site are on a tablet or phone. The ability of a webpage to adapt to smaller screen sizes is called responsive design.

The third reason to change the site is to internationalize it, making it available in a variety of languages.

The goal of the initial project is to convert Find A Grave to new code, not to add new features. That effort is well along and Peter showed off the new site to us. Peter expressed gratitude that there were no pitchforks and flames.

The new Find A Grave home page appearance

It can be found at, although a password is required to see it. Peter shared the password with us, but I didn’t get permission to share it with you. What say you, Peter? Can I share it with people?

The biggest change is immediately obvious: the search form is available on the home page. I think that is a great change. Entering the location has been simplified. Rather than selecting state then county, you start typing the name of the location (cemetery, city, county, state, or country) and select it from the list.

Search results look as shown below and can be sorted in various ways.

Search results on the new Find A Grave alpha site look like this.

An individual result looks like this:

An individual grave record in the new Find My Past website will look like this.

Peter told us the rollout plan is to follow these stages:

  1. Let people play with the beta of the new website. It operates like a sandbox. You can do anything you want, but everything you do will be thrown away. Nothing you do will effect the real Find A Grave website.
  2. Once it is ready, launch the new website as an option. Users can choose which one to use. will take you to the old website. Both show the same data and changes in one appear in the other.
  3. Once users are ready, switch and make take you to the new website. The goal is to be to this point by the end of April.
  4. I can’t remember what he said about end-of-life for the old website. Perhaps it will be kept online for a little while after the new website becomes the main site.

Any bookmarks or copies of URLs (website addresses) to the old website will still work with the new. However, going forward all new URLs will be simpler.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

AncestryDNA Personal Discoveries Project

AncestryDNA Personal DiscoveriesI visited my DNA page last Saturday to see if the new Genetic Communities feature has launched yet. It hasn’t. But I did see something new. Ancestry gave me the opportunity to take a survey. It is part of the “Personal Discoveries Project.”

They posed the question, “Can we discover more from your DNA?” They invited me to take a survey to learn things about me that I might share with my genetic relatives. Participation is optional.

They gave several possible motives. “If we launch a new AncestryDNA project or feature inspired by your responses, you will be the first to know,” they said. They warned that they would combine the data—reasonably hiding your identity—for study and possible sharing on social media or used in advertisements, emails, or promotional offers. The FAQ page states

Learning more about our customers and what you may have in common with your genetic relatives and other AncestryDNA customers will help us provide a better user experience as we develop new products and features. Your feedback can help us identify patterns within groups of people connected by DNA so that we may enhance your AncestryDNA experience.

When I interviewed Kendall Hulet at RootsTech, he talked about Ancestry’s desire to open up the DNA experience more to non-genealogists. My guess is that this is part of that effort.

The survey asked about a dozen questions in each of eight different categories: personality, life story, lifestyle and behavior, travel and culture, traits and characteristics, family details, hobbies and interests, and fun and entertainment. They asked if I was a cat or dog person (dog), if I wore glasses (yes), if I snore (not anymore), what my favorite kind of car is (one that still runs), if I preferred coffee or tea (neither), if my earlobes are attached (no), if I was born in the same country as my grandparents (I lied), if I had ever been to a rodeo (yes), and would I sit it out or dance (dance).

I don’t know if this is a random-sampled survey, but I suspect they want as much data as they can get, to correlate against DNA data. I suspect if you go to your DNA page, you will see the invitation also.

For more information, see the FAQ page at

Monday, March 20, 2017

Don’t Let Your Research Be Flushed Down the Toilet

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxThe Monday Mailbox, “17 Years of Research Being Flushed Down the Toilet,” drew lots of great suggestions on ways Larry—or anyone else—can preserve your research before you are gone.

Doris Wheeler suggested the many copies approach to sharing your tree online:

I still advocate also using GEDCOM to post my tree (without images) to Wikitree, RootsWeb WorldConnect, Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and any other place I can. The thought of losing the fruits of all that hard work is unbearable.

(Sarah V offered to help out if you wish to go the Wikitree route. Just reply to her message.) I said in my article that no one could see your Ancestry tree but subscribers. Barry M Spinner reminded me that Ancestry is available in many libraries, whose patrons will also be able to see your tree.

While some people are concerned about sharing, Carol Yocom said, “I've always shared my work gladly. There are mistakes, but most of it is well sourced.” She said posting several thousand images is “labor intensive, but I'll be damned if 45+ years of work ends up in a dumpster.” She hopes “it proves useful to others after I've collected my ticket outta town!”

Proofreader said, “It's hard to beat good old fashioned paper.” Plenty of people agreed, and again advocated the many copies approach. Mary Chamberlain said,

I think it's important to get hard copies of the tree and any source documents to as many libraries, historical societies, and genealogical societies as possible. Not just those in the area where Larry lives now, but those in areas where branches of the family once lived.

Jim Culbert said that some societies accept paper, some electronic, and some will not be interested at all.

Cat fan said,

If you can create a report with all your family research information and images,and save the document (MS Word or PDF); you can send it to the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne IN. They will print a copy for reference at the library and send you a copy.

For more information, see

If you check with them beforehand, the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake City also accepts donations of books you’ve written. However, they are very picky. Books must be readable, very well organized family history books, rich in standard, genealogical information about people. The preferred format is electronic: a Word or PDF file. Next best is unbound, double sided printed pages. You must be the copyright holder and sign a document giving FamilySearch permission to freely make copies of your book. (I’m pretty sure this includes digital copies posted for free use on the Internet.) They do not accept family tree databases, nor collections of pedigree charts and family group sheets. (I assume that these can be elements of your well-written family history book.) Don’t think you can print out your GEDCOM, throw a hard cover on it, and send it to the Library.) Before donating, contact the donation staff at or call 1-801-240-1855.

I think if you produce a book of Family History Library quality, you should have no problem placing copies in several libraries of various types and town, county, and state genealogical and historical societies. Nancy Smith Gibson warned not to forget your local genealogical society:

I would suggest donating your research, both your tree(s) and back-up information to your local genealogical library or organization. Our local genealogical library benefits greatly from donated research, books, pictures, etc. Sooner or later, somebody either comes in, calls, or emails looking for information and we are so happy to be able to provide some detail that gets overlooked when the majority of information is digitalized. We have many volunteers who work one, two, or more days a month to organize and file. Don't forget your local organizations.

Nancy Smith Gibson
The Melting Pot Genealogical Society and Library
Hot Springs and Garland County, Arkansas

Joseph Martin additionally sent his books to some 65 family members and published about 30 articles in various genealogy magazines, “trying to assure that my 45 years of research will be preserved.”

Connie Moretti pointed out that if you qualify for membership in a lineage or heritage society like the DAR, SAR, Mayflower, and Jamestowne societies, they will preserve your application and all the documentation.


Regarding saving your photos and document images to I had asked Legacy, “Does Legacy allow uploading source images to FamilySearch Family Tree?” Legacy responded: 

We would LOVE to see this but FamilySearch does not allow this, at least not yet.  We can only do what FamilySearch allows (they call the shots on what features we can have).  As soon as they give us the go ahead our programmers will make it happen.  For now, you have to upload photos manually on FamilySearch itself.

Enhancement Requests
Legacy Family Tree

According to P Walker, Ancestral Quest is already doing it:

I imported my RootsMagic gedcom into Ancestral Quest (wasn't happy with how images were treated during the import, however, but maybe other imports, such as from Legacy and PAF would do better) and then synched those with FamilySearch Family Tree and it's really going quickly getting images up into FS and also downloading any new ones anyone has added.

It's taking longer for RootsMagic and Legacy to add this as it's not a priority of theirs right now…

The Ancestral Quest page on indicates P. Walker is correct.

As I reported last Monday, RootsFinder will soon (if they don’t already) have the capability to upload to FamilySearch Memories the photos associated with a GEDCOM.