Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ancestry Deletes Hundreds of Databases

Red delete key by GDJ on OpenClipArt.orgFellow blogger, Rander Seavers, discovered last month that Ancestry.com had deleted over 500 databases. (See Randy’s “Where Did 567 Databases on Ancestry.com Go?” and the follow up, “Where Did 567 Databases on Ancestry.com Go? An Answer. UPDATED!”) I’m not overly concerned, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Randy asked for an explanation of the deletions on the Ancestry Global Facebook group. That’s a secret group that the Ancestry Insider is not a member of. Not to worry. He has his own sources. <wink> <wink>. But I digress. You can see Ancestry’s two replies in Randy’s second article. Among other things, Ancestry said that the databases they deleted were

  • really old
  • mostly available elsewhere
  • text-only copies of books, city directories, and records that they have made available elsewhere with both text and images
  • seldom used
  • in a format that is not currently supported
  • databases being considered for re-keying

They also provided particular examples, which I found and verified using Google.

True to their word, some of these databases were really old, some were mostly available elsewhere, and some were text-only copies that were sometimes available elsewhere with both text and images.

Were they seldom used? I’ve done enough web analytics that I know that each record on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org is used about the same amount as any other. A collection twice as big as another gets about twice the usage. Huge collections get used a lot. Were these databases seldom used? Yup; a collection with 600 pages seldom gets used. (I had to roll my eyes several years ago when I learned that Ancestry had combined into one state collection, all the small city directories for the state. “They weren’t being used much. Now that they are in one collection, they are being used!” Well, if you add up all the small usages, it would about equal the amount the combined collection was used. Still, it made the executives feel better about their investment in city directories. But I digress…) Also, several of these databases didn’t have name indexes, so they would have been pretty much invisible.

Were some in a format that is not currently supported?

I remember when Ancestry implemented New Search. They wrecked the display of a bunch of databases they used to offer on DVD in the Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2.

LDS Family History Suite Database List
A partial list of databases available on the Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2

These databases used a technology called Infobases and Ancestry’s New Search didn’t support it. I begged until they added rudimentary support, a band aid. But the results were substandard.

So were some of these databases in an unsupported format? Yes and no. The Source and the Red Book were a nightmare to use, but they were usable. But since Ancestry seems to be rewriting some website code, they may be trying to avoid supporting Infobase databases by retiring them. Here’s a snippet of what an Infobase looks like when displayed by New Search code. Notice that some information is meaningless because the Infobase paragraph titles were not preserved. Also, notice that photograph links are all broken.

Snippet of the display of a database originating from an Infobase

Snippet of the display of a database originating from an Infobase

At the end of their first reply regarding the removed databases, Ancestry stated, “We are not able to provide other details.” They then turned around and provided other details, after which they said, “This is as much as I can say on the matter.” This refusal to provide a full list has really irked users. I have to agree on that point.

Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2Using the clues above, it is possible to establish other retired databases. Use a Google search such as [site:search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx "title" ] (replace title) to search for LDS Infobases from the list above. I tried a few. Once I found one, I tried it. I could tell that a database had been removed because it was inoperable.

To establish other retired databases, use a Google search such as [site:search.ancestry.com "Generations Network, Inc., 1997"] to search for really old databases. I tried a few:

While I’m not willing to spend enough time to look for all five hundred deleted data bases, it certainly looks like many are Mormon-related, and many are old, tiny, text-only, poorly formatted, and pretty-much invisible databases. But Ancestry’s silence makes it seem that the list contains one or more that would embarrass Ancestry, cause them legal problems, or anger its customers.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Square Portraits Are Back!

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxWho says Ancestry.com is not listening? In a major reversal, Ancestry has reverted portrait photos to squares, similar to Old Ancestry. They are also adding a cropping tool, a feature not available in Old Ancestry. That makes it convenient to use a single group photograph as a source for multiple portraits.

They have also tweaked readability by bolding the name of the person and adjusted some spacing issues. They acknowledge the user complaints about white on black text, but haven’t indicated any plans to address it.

I don’t have a clear before shot, but here is an old, low resolution one from the Ancestry Blog:

The old oval portrait on the New Ancestry

The portrait is now square and the text is bolded:

The new square portrait on the New Ancestry

For more information, see “The New Ancestry: October 8th Feature Update” on the Ancestry Blog.

Monday Mailbox: Adding Media as a Source

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I'm puzzled by your comment [in “News Ketchup for 8 October 2015”] that New Ancestry doesn't support non-Ancestry media items to be attached to source citations in the Facts Timeline. I attach a JPEG version of a non-Ancestry media item within FTM for Mac and then sync it with my online tree and I can see the non-Ancestry media item associated with a fact on the Facts Timeline view. But, perhaps I misunderstood your comment?


Dear CSK,

This past week I listened to one of Crista Cowan’s videos (couldn’t watch while driving) and it sounded like maybe it is possible online, but I wasn’t getting it by just listening. Guess I’ll have to go back and watch it. Regardless, here’s the workflow that doesn’t work. Perhaps Ancestry can fix it.

1. I upload a scan of a source.

2. Enter a fact.


(Hmmm. I can’t remember for sure which order I did 1 and 2.)

3. Associate the fact with the media.

4. Click Edit on the Fact.


5. Click Source Citations.


There is no option to create a non-Ancestry source here, with or without a media object attached. The only choices are Ancestry’s own records.

I can do it on FamilySearch’s Family Tree and I find it a very natural workflow. Ancestry, consider this an official feature request.

The Ancestry Insider

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Star in an Ancestry.com Commercial

Star in an Ancestry.com CommercialThis is pretty short notice, but I only learned of the offer today. The submission deadline is Tuesday, 13 October 2015.

Ancestry.com is running a campaign. The winner gets to star in an Ancestry TV commercial. To enter, send them a video, three minutes or less, sharing how you got started with Ancestry.com. To be eligible you must be available for filming the commercial 26 October to 28 October. It sounds like they may choose a few winners, but I’m not certain.

For more information, visit http://ancestry.sonichaus.com/experience/.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Darned, Stout Rope

Records are the darnedest things. And one in particular is particularly darned. It is, perhaps, the most famous will in American genealogy. And with the new Ancestry.com will and probate collection, it is easy to access.

Perform an exact search of the “Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993” collection for George S Wolff, probate year 1908. Select the view images icon for George S Wolff, Philadelphia County. View image 158.

The top portion of the will appears as follows:

"a good stout rope with which to hang himself"

Page 1             The sentence scratched out was scratch
                       ed by me. George S. Wolff

                  George S Wolff
               Summerdale, Phila.

                                                Dec. 4th 1906

      I the undersigned George S Wolff being
of sound mind & body write this my last will
and testament :
      I first direct that all my debts be paid and
all my affairs be adjusted to establish the value
of my estate. When this is done  I direct that,
before anything else is done, ---------------------
Fifty cents (50 ¢) be paid to my son-in-law
Chas. W. Wensel  a native of Huntingdon, Pa. to
enable him to buy for himself a good stout rope
with which to hang himself & thus rid mankind
of one of the most infamous scoundrels that
ever roamed this broad land, or dwelt outside of
a penitentiary, [several words scratched out]
[several words scratched out] -------------------
    I next direct that all of my estate after
having paid my debts and said fifty cents
be held in trust until my youngest daughter
Irene is of age and when she has reached
her legal maturity an equal division of share
and share alike is to be made between all
of my children, six in number, provided however
                      Continued on P. 2

What adds to the amusement for me is that in his description of his son-in-law, George had to censor himself!

If Mariette doesn't divorce him, she gets nothing.

Continuation of my will  (P. 2)
       from P.1
  that my daughter Mariette now married to
before named Chas. W. Wensel is then divorced
from him & have full and absolute control of
her only child Robert or other children she may
have by that man before her divorce. -----------
  If however she is not divorced from Wensel then
the division shall only be share & share alike
between my five remaining children, and Mariette
now Mrs. Wensel is not to share in any form
part or manner in any property that I have
left behind. ------ …
[remainder of document is not shown.]

From the 1910 census of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania:

Detail from 1910 census showing Charles W Wensel is divorced and living with his parents.

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Image Sources

Will: Portions of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Wills 2238-2261, 1908, book 56, page 395, will 2249, 4 December 1906, George S Wolff; images (http://ancestry.com : accessed 4 October 2015). Subscription required.

Census: Detail from Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, enumeration district 67, Huntingdon Borough, sheet 6A, family 136; image (http://www.mocavo.com : accessed 4 October 2015), path: Research:Records, Books and Datasets > U.S. Census > 1910 > Charles W Wensel.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

News Ketchup for 8 October 2015

Ancestry Insider KetchupTime to ketchup…

Bullet Ancestry.comOctober is Family History Month and Ancestry.com is sponsoring a number of activities to celebrate. Besides the Find A Grave Community Day on 17 October 2015 (see “Find A Grave’s Community Day 17 October 2015”), they are broadcasting several webinars, doing some social media giveaways (follow their Facebook page), and sponsoring a Pinterest contest. For more information, see “Welcome to October Family History Month 2015” on the Ancestry Blog.

Bullet Ancestry.comI have a lot of interest in source citations. And I’m not a fan of the citation capabilities of Ancestry.com. So I hope to find some time to watch Ancestry’s YouTube video: “Crafting Source Citations in Your Ancestry Tree.” I’m especially disappointed that New Ancestry doesn’t support non-Ancestry sources in the facts timeline. You’d think they would want people to contribute their scans of source documents.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch’s new Indexing program has been “almost here” for several years. FamilySearch has now said that starting in June they’ve been rolling the system out to a limited set of users. That number is up to 4,000. This number is gradually growing, but by invitation only. For more information, see “What’s Happening to the New Indexing Program?” on the FamilySearch blog.

FamilySearch tree bullet

FamilySearch has added logo buttons on the person pages of Family Tree that launch record searches on partner websites: Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com. For more information, see “New Feature: Search Genealogy Records on the Web’s Largest Sites” on the FamilySearch.org blog.



Bullet Ancestry.com

Ancestry spokesperson Matthew Deighton announced that AncestryDNA users can now share their ethnicity results.

AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others. AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others. AncestryDNA ethnicity results can be shared with others.


FamilySearch tree bullet

I’ve not yet reported on the results of the FamilySearch Indexing global “Fuel the Find” event held back in August. While they fell short of their 100,000 indexers goal (they had 82,039), they achieved several milestones: 12,251,870 records indexed and 2,307,876 records arbitrated. Volunteers achieved an 89% increase in non-English indexing.

“We are thrilled with the number of people who are fluent in a non-English language who accepted the challenge to index records in that language,” said Courtney Connolly, FamilySearch digital marketing manager. “If volunteers will keep up this rate of non-English indexing and arbitration, we’ll soon see people everywhere experiencing the same success in finding their ancestors that English-language researchers enjoy.” Volunteers did 2,183,212 non-English records including 1,380,684 in Spanish, 147,568 in Portuguese, 226,734 in French, and 116,835 in Italian.

FamilySearch.org has twenty times more records in English than in all other languages combined. “There is a huge and growing need for English speakers who are fluent in a second language, and native speakers of non-English languages to learn how to index. Tens of thousands of new volunteers are needed to keep up with the opportunity to index the world’s records,” said Connolly.

FamilySearch shared accomplishments in a PDF file. Here’s a snippet:

FamilySearch 2015 Indexing Worldwide event participants by language

NARA Renews Ancestry.com Partnership Agreement

NARA Digitization Project Manager, Erin Townsend
2010 photograph of NARA Digitization Project Manager, Erin Townsend,
viewing newly digitized and published records on Ancestry.com.
Image credit: NARA. 
“We are pleased to announce the renewal of our digitization partnership agreement with the National Archives and Record Administration,” said Matthew Deighton, Ancestry.com spokesperson. The essence of the agreement is that Ancestry pays for, digitizes, and indexes records for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Ancestry’s subscribers and NARA visitors get exclusive access to the digitized records for five years. NARA calls it an embargo period. Then NARA can release the records free to everyone.

Embargos are already starting to expire on  early partnership projects. According to NARA, they have published 5.25 million images on their website. NARA uses a different paradigm than other companies for publishing online record collections. If I understand correctly, records must be accessed through their catalog.

Digitizing originals can be quite expensive, so Ancestry, and by extension all you Ancestry subscribers, are to be applauded. You’re making a difference. “With investments in scanning and indexing reaching more than 1 billion records, we have saved taxpayers more than $100 million dollars at commercial digitization rates,” said Matthew. If my math is correct, that means it would cost NARA $10 to scan and index each record. (Wow! If that is the case, FamilySearch is underpaying its indexers. Oh, wait… Never mind.)

The renewal comes despite an incident in March. An Ancestry employee was caught throwing away NARA documents rather than digitizing them. (See “NARA Suspends Ancestry.com Scanning Operation” on my blog.) I’ve never seen any other public information on the incident. Obviously, if NARA has renewed the agreement, Ancestry must have cured any weaknesses in their processes.

Ancestry began digitizing NARA microfilm back in 2000. They began scanning original paper documents in 2008. In that time they have published 1,371 collections from NARA collections, containing over 170 million images and more than 1 billion records.

“This agreement marks the renewing of a great partnership and we are proud to continue our relationship with the United States National Archives and Record Administration,” Matthew said.

Partnerships are a key part of NARA’s digitization plan. More than 97% of the documents scanned at NARA are done by partners. It appears genealogy companies are doing the lions’ share of that. That mirrors user requests. NARA recently asked what people wanted digitized the most. “Overwhelmingly, people asked us to digitize records of genealogical interest,” said NARA’s Denise M. Henderson. “[Requests] include… immigration and ethnic heritage records; [and] military and veterans records, especially those from World War I and II.”

Among the records NARA will focus on (not necessary via Ancestry) for the next 18-24 months are:

    Record Group              Title 21                              All Naturalization Records 21                              Bankruptcy Dockets (within certain parameters) 26/36                        Seamen Records / Crew Lists 24                              Naval Muster Rolls 24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801-1940 24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978 24                              Bureau of Naval Personnel Casualty Case Cards, 1964-1977 129                            Inmate Case Files (Leavenworth) – first 10,000 case files only 226                            Office of Strategic Services Personnel Files, 1942-1945 59                              Department of State Name Index, 1910-1959 59                              Department of State Central Decimal Files, 1910-1929 15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Veterans of the Army and the Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, 1861-1934 15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Veterans of the Army and Navy, 1861-1934 109                            Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government, 1874-1899 498                           Helper Files, ca. 1945 – 1947 – 19 series/multiple countries 407                           World War II Operations Reports, 1940-1948 29                             1950 Census Enumeration District Maps